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Title: They Stooped to Folly
Author: Ellen Glasgow
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Language:  English
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Title: They Stooped to Folly
Author: Ellen Glasgow


A Comedy of Morals


Ellen Glasgow



Part First


Part Second


Part Third


"When lovely woman stoops to folly,
  And finds too late that men betray,
What charm can soothe her melancholy?
  What art can wash her guilt away?"



Mr. Virginius Curle Littlepage, who had his reason apart from the
weather for a melancholy view of life, stood at the window of his
law office and looked out upon a depressing afternoon in November.
Against blown sheets of rain his large, benign head was dimly
etched by the firelight.  At fifty-seven, his dark hair was still
thick and only a little grey on the temples; his ruddy Georgian
features were still noble in contour; and his short, well-fed
figure, though a trifle stout at the waist, was still imposing in
carriage.  For he was one of those Virginian pillars of society
that are held upright less by singleness of heart than by the firm
support of woman's influence.

Without, he saw clouds, rain, mist, a few scudding yellow leaves
from a tormented elm, and all the uniform ugliness of a commercial
invasion.  Within, illumined by the sunken fire of his youth, he
looked back upon the creditable years of his life, and felt that he
hated them.  When had he really lived?  When, in all his successful
career, had he reached after happiness?  When, even for an hour,
had he taken the thing that he wanted?  Gazing down on the flooded
High Street in Queenborough, he told himself that he had learned to
bridle his impulses from the hour of his birth.  He had respected
convention; he had deferred to tradition.  Yet to-day, by this
dying flare of the years, all the sober pleasures he had known
appeared as worthless as cinders.  "What is the meaning of it?" he
asked, with a start of dismay.  "Is it middle age?  Is it the fatal
inadequacy of all human experience?  Or is it merely that I have
become a disappointed idealist?"

A philosopher by habit of mind, he persisted in his search for the
cause beneath his disenchantment with life.  "I've had more than
most men," he continued precisely.  "I've been successful beyond my
deserts.  I was born with the things for which other men sacrifice
pleasure and health, and I've gone as far, at least in Virginia, as
my profession can take me.  Moreover, I've one of the best wives in
the world, and no man could ask for three finer children.  Duncan,
to be sure, contracted a form of moral dyspepsia in the war; but
any father ought to be satisfied with so normal a son as Curle.
Common, perhaps, in spite of his blood, though a taint of
vulgarity, as Marmaduke would say, helps a man to feel at home in
his world.  And Mary Victoria!  A girl like Mary Victoria, blessed
with beauty, sense, character, and determination, scarcely needed a
world at war and a white veil to turn her into a heroine.  True,
she stayed abroad too long when she went back after the Armistice.
But in a few hours she will be home again, and we shall soon have
forgotten how we've missed her. . . .  Yes, my children are all
right, and so, of course, is their mother.  When I think of the
nervous and naggling wives that drive men to despair, I ought to be
thankful that Victoria has never lost control of herself since she
married me.  No, it is not that.  Something else must be wrong.  I
seem to have had everything, yet I feel--I've felt for months--as
if I'd never had anything that I wanted.  The war, I suppose.  But
the war has been over for five years, and I've had time enough to
grow used to the changes.  Unless"--he drew his breath in horror--
"I've all along missed the excitement we lived in."  Though he told
himself that the memory of the war had sunk in a black chill to the
very pit of his soul, he knew that nothing else could be compared
in vehemence with that witches' sabbath of released desires.  "For
once we were natural," he thought, while the sensation of cold
nausea crept from its retreat and invaded his mind.  "We were
trying to be too superior, and it was a relief, even to the women,
especially to the women, when the savage hunger broke through the
thin crust we call civilization.  It was a relief to us all, no
doubt, to be able to think murder and call it idealism.  But the
war wasn't the worst thing," he concluded grimly.  "The worst thing
is this sense of having lost our way in the universe.  The worst
thing is that the war has made peace seem so futile.  It is just as
if the bottom had dropped out of idealism. . . ."

Behind him the door opened and shut.  Without turning, he was aware
that the younger of his two secretaries laid a pile of letters in
front of the immense ebony inkstand, shaped like an elephant, which
his wife had given him on his birthday a few weeks before.  While
he looked at the rain, he could see the ivory and dusk of the girl
in the firelight.  Her name was Milly Burden, and he had found her
attractive enough to arrest his attention without unsettling the
stable equilibrium of his emotions.  For nearly six years she had
remained more or less of a mystery; and though she had remained
more or less of a mystery, he had always respected her.  In the
beginning his ideals had restrained him; and after he had lost his
ideals, an obscure aversion, familiar to him as the instincts of a
gentleman, had adequately taken their place.  He pitied her; he had
become sincerely attached to her; but all modern youth was too
hard, too flippant, too brazen, he felt, to awaken romantic desire.
Had he been capable of desire without romance, he would still have
harboured a prejudice in favour of severe virtue in women.  Not all
his affection for Milly Burden, not all his admiration for her
courage and the flower-like blue of her eyes, could blind him to
the fact that she had once forgotten her modesty.  Other women, it
is true, had forgotten their modesty even in Queenborough, where
modesty, though artfully preserved, was by no means invulnerable.
But these other women, though one of them was his own poor Aunt
Agatha and another was his attractive, if unfortunate, neighbour,
Mrs. Dalrymple, were all safely provided for either by the code of
a gentleman or by the wages of sin.  With Milly Burden, however,
there was a difference.  From the beginning of their acquaintance
she had treated the feminine sense of sin with the casual modern--
or was it merely the casual masculine touch?  Ever since the
unhappy occasion near the end of the war, when she had become
involved in those troubles that overtake women who are more
generous than prudent, he had waited in vain for the first sign of
repentance.  She had, he knew, suffered desperately.  Not even poor
Aunt Agatha, wrapped in her sense of sin as in perpetual widow's
weeds, had loved more unwisely than Milly.  The difference, he
perceived reluctantly, was less in the measure than in the nature
of their guilty passions.  While poor Aunt Agatha, condemned by the
precepts of beautiful behaviour to her third-story back bedroom,
had mourned the loss of her virtue, Milly Burden, typing his
letters with light fingers and a despairing heart, had mourned only
the loss of her lover.  The war had taken him away from her; and,
with a dark and bitter passion, she had hated the war and all the
contagious war idealism which had swept Mary Victoria, like a
winged victory in a Red Cross uniform, as far as the distressed but
animated Balkan kingdoms.  Though he had disapproved of Milly, it
was pleasant to remember now that he had protected her.  Her youth,
her gallantry, and her imprudent passion, had stirred him more
deeply than he had ever dared to confess.  Assisted by his wife, he
had helped the girl in her trouble, and, opposed by his wife, he
had received her again when her trouble was over.  Her story was
common enough, but he was sufficiently discerning to realize that
Milly herself was unusual.  Her indifference to what in a Victorian
lady he would have called her frailty, appeared in some incredible
fashion to redeem her character.  "After all, is it the sense of
sin that makes the fallen woman?" he asked himself in serious
disturbance of mind.

This had occurred more than five years before, and while he had
meditated on the painful nature of her problems, Milly had looked
up at him with disaster, and yet something stronger than disaster
in her deep blue eyes.

"Does he know of--of this?" Mr. Littlepage had asked, with

"I haven't told him.  He couldn't do anything, and besides, he is
miserable.  He isn't a fighter.  He was always afraid of life.
Some men are, you know.  That makes it harder for me.  I am living
with his fear all the time."

"And not with your own?"

"Oh, I'm not like that.  I haven't enough imagination.  I take what
comes, but I don't go out looking for trouble.  Martin does."

"Is his name Martin?"

"Martin Welding.  Do you know him?"

"I am not sure.  Was his mother an Annersley?"  Vaguely he had
remembered that one of the obscure Annersley girls had married a
Welding, who had proved worthless and finally taken to drink.

"Yes.  She is dead now."

"What does he do?"

"He was in a bank.  There wasn't much in that, but he was trying to
write.  He is only twenty-two."

Twenty-two, and Milly, at the time, was not yet nineteen!  "Well,
if I were you, my dear, I should let him know of this," he had said
gently, while Milly wept with a violence that penetrated his heart.

"I am not thinking about this.  I am thinking that I may never see
him again," she had sobbed, as she dried her eyes.

Whether she had told Martin or not, Mr. Littlepage had never
discovered.  By the time she came out of the hospital, where the
child, blighted by Mrs. Burden's moral sense, had withered
immediately, the war was already over, and he had thought it wiser,
as well as kinder, to ask no questions.  Then, three years later,
she had broken through her reserve in the hope that his daughter,
who was employed in the reconstruction of Europe, might help to
find Martin Welding.

"But the war has been over for almost three years, my dear.  Where
has he been all this time?"

"He was sent home in a hospital ship.  For six months they kept him
in St. Elizabeth's.  I went there every Sunday when they would let
me see him."

"And you said nothing about it?"

"What was there to say?  I saved all my money for those trips.  I
never spent a penny on myself."

"So that was why--"  Overwhelmed by the discovery, Mr. Littlepage
had gazed at her through an iridescent film of emotion.  That was
why she had appeared so much shabbier than Miss Dorset, who was
independent in means and superior to men.

"Yes, that was why."

"And I never suspected."

"There wasn't anything to suspect."

"In all that time did you tell him?"

A look of agony, which he had never forgotten, convulsed her thin
features.  "How could I?  They said in the hospital that we must
tell him nothing depressing.  I always hoped that when he was well
again everything would be just as it was before.  Love can keep
alive on so little hope."

"But didn't you see him after he left the hospital?"

"Not often.  After he got his discharge, he tried to find work in
New York.  That was too far for me to go, and he could not afford
to come home.  Then suddenly he went back to France."

"Didn't he see you before he sailed?"

"No, he wrote from the ship.  He was at the end of his luck, he
said.  Everything had failed him, and he had had to borrow money to
go back in the steerage.  He hated America, and he hoped that, if
he went back to France, he might be able to write what he felt
about it.  If he ever got on his feet again, he said, he would send
for me, and he added that but for me he should have given up hope.
When he was in the hospital he wanted to kill himself."

An unmitigated cad, Mr. Littlepage had reflected; and while he
watched her stricken eyes (the eyes of a dying hope, he thought
sentimentally), he had mused upon the singular power that masculine
cads exercise over the feminine mind.

"Did he write after he went back to France?"

"Only in the beginning.  At first he was lonely and miserable, and
he seemed eager for me to write to him.  Then his letters stopped
suddenly.  It has been almost six months since I heard from him.  I
want to find out the truth.  Even if he is dead, even if he has
killed himself, I must find out the truth.  Anything is better than
this suspense."

"Well, I'll see what I can do, my child."  Mr. Littlepage had
promised readily, for he had one of the kindest hearts in the
world; and before going to bed that night, he had written a vague
but urgent letter to his daughter.  If anything could be done, he
assured himself in distress, Mary Victoria, who had a firm hand
with an emergency, would he equal to the occasion.  Not only was
Milly as dear, by this time, as a second and less formidable
daughter, but he was sentimental enough to deal mildly with love
when it did not endanger either his peace or his prospects.  That
Mary Victoria was more than equal to the event was proved, within a
reasonable space of time, by a triumphant cable which announced
that Martin Welding had been found in a provincial French hospital.
He was suffering, the message briefly divulged, from "a nervous
collapse," and this was followed by the encouraging words, "We are
helping him."  Several months later she had written that Martin was
out of the hospital, but still subject to attacks of depression,
and unwilling to return to America because he felt he had made a
failure of life.  "We have offered him the position of secretary in
our orphanage," she had concluded, "and he may go back with us to
the Balkans.  It seems the best thing for him to do."  Two years
had passed since that letter, but there had been no other mention
of Martin.  Though Mr. Littlepage had asked many questions, Mary
Victoria had neglected to answer them.  Apparently the young man
with the inadequate nervous system had dropped out of her noble and
active life, and she seemed to be occupied with more important


"I wonder why Mary Victoria never told us what happened," he mused
this afternoon, while his mind turned back to the silence and
anxiety of all the years since the war.  "Did something occur that
she couldn't bear writing us?  Is it possible that the chap went
out of his mind or even made away with himself?"  Well, whatever
had happened, he could do no good by beginning this futile
speculation all over again.  In a few hours, unless there had been
a delay with the Customs, his daughter would be in his arms and
could no longer evade a reply.  Suspense had been hard; but it was
unfair to expect Mary Victoria to realize the slow torture of a
referred catastrophe.  Meanwhile, the best way was to put Milly's
anxiety out of his thoughts. . . .  Should he go on to his club in
the hope of diversion?  Or would it be easier, as well as more
prudent, to wait, as he had promised, until Victoria stopped by for
him? . . .

Through his slow but thorough mind there floated a disquieting
vision of his favourite club.  Shivering in the chill dawn of
prohibition, he watched a few timid drinkers (Ah, degenerate scions
of the Virginian throats of hickory!) measure out their evening
thimblefuls of old Bourbon.  "No, there's nothing in that for me,"
he thought gloomily, and decided that it would be wiser to wait
until his wife picked him up on her way home from a lecture.

Victoria, he knew, could be trusted to come early.  Though she had
found time, since the children were grown, to take part in several
major reforms, she had never failed to put the duties of marriage
above the urgent needs of philanthropy.  There was, too, this other
reason to expect promptness to-day, since their only daughter, and
the youngest of their three fine children, was coming home after a
long absence.  Having gone abroad with the Red Cross in the last
year of the war, she had returned after the Armistice to do her
independent duty by the Balkan Peninsula.  A girl of much
character, which she had inherited from her mother, handsome,
capable, high-minded, and almost automatically inspiring, she was
one of those earnest women who are designed to curb the lower
nature of man.  Even at a tender age, when she had left her play to
guide her blind uncle Stephen Brooke through the decorous shadows
of Washington Street, she had inclined her infant ear by choice
rather than compulsion to the Stern Daughter of the Voice of God.
At seventeen she had become engaged, against the wishes of her
parents, to a youthful missionary, Episcopal but devout, who had
been indiscreetly assigned to the Congo.  From this mistaken
sacrifice she was saved only by the invasion of Belgium; and Mr.
Littlepage had become ignobly reconciled to a world conflict that
diverted Mary Victoria's mission from the Congo, where faces are
incurably black, to the Balkan kingdoms, where, he charitably
assumed, they are merely sallow.  But it was a relief, nevertheless,
to find how all the romantic satyrs of the Balkans were repulsed
by Mary Victoria's moral idealism.  After all, there was more
than a grain of truth in that favourite proverb of the Southern
gentleman, "A woman's virtue is its best defence."  Though he
had missed her sadly, for he was a devoted father, he had been
prevented by a legal conference from meeting her on the dock, and
in his place he had sent Curle, a popular young man, without charm,
but as loud and bright and brisk as the New South.  In spite of Mr.
Littlepage's love for his daughter, and his sincere pride in her
achievements abroad (were not her boxes filled with glittering
decorations bestowed by those countries that are content to honour
rather than imitate altruism?), he was unable, when he thought of
her, to dismiss a feeling of paternal inadequacy.  For Mary
Victoria deserved, he felt, a more celebrated father; a father who
had distinguished himself, if not in war, which is an exclusive
field, at least in the less favourable path of private virtue.  She
deserved a second parent after the finer pattern of her mother, who
was, as Mr. Littlepage had every reason to know, a match for any
moral necessity.

After thirty years of married happiness, he could still remind
himself that Victoria was endowed with every charm except the
thrilling touch of human frailty.  Though her perfection
discouraged pleasures, especially the pleasures of love, he had
learned in time to feel the pride of a husband in her natural
frigidity.  For he still clung, amid the decay of moral platitudes,
to the discredited ideal of chivalry.  In his youth the world was
suffused with the after-glow of the long Victorian age, and a
graceful feminine style had softened the manners, if not the
natures, of men.  At the end of that interesting epoch, when
womanhood was exalted from a biological fact into a miraculous
power, Virginius Littlepage, the younger son of an old and affluent
family, had married Victoria Brooke, the grand-daughter of a
tobacco planter, who had made a satisfactory fortune by forsaking
his plantation and converting tobacco into cigarettes.  While
Virginius had been trained by stern tradition to respect every
woman who had not stooped to folly, the virtue peculiar to her sex
was among the least of his reasons for admiring Victoria.  She was
not only modest, which was usual in the 'nineties, but she was
beautiful, which is unusual in any decade.  In the beginning of
their acquaintance he had gone even further and ascribed intellect
to her; but a few months of marriage had shown this to be merely
one of the many delusions created by perfect features and a noble
expression.  Everything about her had been smooth and definite,
even the tones of her voice and the way her light brown hair, which
she wore  la Pompadour, was rolled stiffly back from her forehead
and coiled in a burnished rope on the top of her head.  A serious
young man, ambitious to attain a place in the world more brilliant
than the secluded seat of his ancestors, he had been impressed at
their first meeting by the compactness and precision of Victoria's
orderly mind.  For in that earnest period the minds, as well as the
emotions, of lovers were orderly.  It was an age when eager young
men flocked to church on Sunday morning, and eloquent divines
discoursed upon the Victorian poets in the middle of the week.  He
could afford to smile now when he recalled the solemn Browning
class in which he had first lost his heart.  How passionately he
had admired Victoria's virginal features!  How fervently he had
envied her competent but caressing way with the poet!  Incredible
as it seemed to him now, he had fallen in love with her while she
recited from the more ponderous passages in The Ring and the Book.
He had fallen in love with her then, though he had never really
enjoyed Browning, and it had been a relief to him when the Unseen,
in company with its illustrious poet, had at last gone out of
fashion.  Yet, since he was disposed to admire all the qualities he
did not possess, he had never ceased to respect the firmness with
which Victoria continued to deal in other forms with the Absolute.
As the placid years passed, and she came to rely less upon her
virginal features, it seemed to him that the ripe opinions of her
youth began to shrink and flatten as fruit does that has hung too
long on the tree.  She had never changed, he realized, since he had
first known her; she had become merely riper, softer, and sweeter
in nature.  Her advantage rested where advantage never fails to
rest, in moral fervour.  To be invariably right was her single
wifely failing.  For his wife, he sighed, with the vague unrest of
a husband whose infidelities are imaginary, was a genuinely good
woman.  She was as far removed from pretence as she was from the
posturing virtues that flourish in the credulous world of the
drama.  The pity of it was that even the least exacting husband
should so often desire something more piquant than goodness.

Although he had been contented with Victoria, he could not deny
that there had been troubled periods when he had craved something
more than marriage.  This was nobody's fault, he assured himself;
least of all was it the fault of his wife.  What it meant, he
supposed, was simply that marriage, like life itself, is not
superior to the migratory impulses of spring and autumn.  And if he
had suffered from his thwarted longings, it was a comfort to
remember that he had made Victoria perfectly happy.  It was a
comfort to remember that, like all pure women everywhere, she was
satisfied with monogamy.

In his own vagrant seasons, since the nature of man is more urgent,
he had found himself thinking wistfully of Mrs. Dalrymple, who,
when she was not repairing her charms or her reputation in Europe,
lived on the opposite corner of Washington Street.  Too alluring
for her widow's weeds, to which she imparted a festive air by the
summer bloom in her cheeks, he remembered her as one of those fair,
fond, clinging women whom men long either to protect or to ruin.
Frivolous, no doubt, yet how appealing, how fascinating, how
feminine, in her light-hearted bereavement!  Why is it, he had
often wondered, that not only a wife but even a widow appears more
attractive when she is adorned with a sprightly demeanour?  When he
thought of Amy Dalrymple in his hours of leisure (the only hours in
which he permitted himself to think sentimentally of any woman),
there was a motion, a surge, a buried whirlpool, far below in some
primeval flood of his being.  For the last ten years (while Mrs.
Dalrymple found her widow's ruche becoming and continued to wear it
lightly), he had asked himself, in those vagabond moods that visit
husbands in April and November, if he might have been happier with
a woman who was sometimes indiscreet, but always amusing.  It was
true, he conceded reluctantly, that Amy Dalrymple was very far
indeed from what in Victorian days they had called an inspiring
example.  Before her fortunate second marriage, and even more
fortunate widowhood, she was the heroine of a scandal that had
shaken the canons of refined conduct to their solid foundation.
While her husband, conforming to the dramatic style of the period,
had promptly transfixed her by a divorce, her lover, a practical
rather than a theoretical exponent of chivalry, had discreetly
married a lady of sober views and impeccable conduct.  Moved by her
youth, her loneliness, her amber-coloured hair, and the drenched
brown velvet of her eyes, Mr. Littlepage, though he usually avoided
the divorce court, had consented to act as her counsel.  Victoria,
who was unfashionable enough to be called a "woman's woman," had
stood by him steadfastly, and had even appeared in the street with
his amiable client.  Yes, Victoria had been wonderful from the
beginning to the end of that trying experience.  Only the public
conviction that she was too frigid to harbour designs on the male
sex in general had enabled her to emerge unspotted from her noble
behaviour.  "She never liked Amy Paget," mused Mr. Littlepage now.
"She never liked her, yet she was at her side when all the fair-
weather friends fell away."  Strange, how often in the last few
months that one generous act had commanded his loyalty.  Fifteen
years ago, and it seemed only yesterday!  At the time Amy Paget,
though a ruined woman, was still young and beautiful, and nobody
was astonished when, within the next five years, she married Peter
Dalrymple in Paris and safely buried him in Pre Lachaise.  Mr.
Littlepage had visited the imposing marble tomb in that wilderness
of lost illusions, and he had been favourably impressed by the
style, as well as by the substance, of Mrs. Dalrymple's grief.
"Fortunately her heart was too light to sink," he thought now, with
tender compassion.  "After all, she was deeply wronged, poor lady."
Attired in her soft French mourning, she had continued to flit
airily between Paris and Queenborough, until, on one of her summer
flights to her old home, Mr. Littlepage was tempted to become more
than a friend, though, perhaps, a little less than an advocate.

Many sober years had come and gone since that August even when he
had lingered beside Mrs. Dalrymple on the vine-draped veranda at
the back of her house.  His home had seemed empty while Victoria
and the children completed an art pilgrimage in Europe; and swayed
by a fluttering impulse of curiosity, he had wandered through the
darkness toward the friendly light in Mrs. Dalrymple's window.  A
business matter, she explained, had brought her back in the dull
season, which was the only season that encouraged her to defy the
gossips of Queenborough.  Then she had slipped through the French
window, out under the dark and fragrant grape-leaves, where the
moonlight clustered like flowers over her blue dress.  They had
talked casually of many subjects, and not until she touched on the
past had that sweet and perilous emotion rushed like a burning wine
through his senses.  Still glowing, still intoxicated, he had
followed her when she fled into the dimly lighted hall, and
enfolded her in his arms.  After ten years and a world war, he
could see again the way her white lids closed like flowers over her
dark eyes and her red lips (at a period when a scarlet mouth was a
badge of shame) parted with the quivering sound of her breath.  All
those years and all that conflict between them!  Yet only a few
hours before he had watched her cross the pavement and step into
her car, and he had suffered again the dull ache of unsatisfied
longing.  That one glimpse after her long absence (for she also had
obeyed the summons to world service) had shown him that she was
still youthful, still seductive, though her once shapely figure was
now severely repressed and her lustrous hair was flattened in
shallow waves over her ears.  Just the sight of her in the street
had made him feel suddenly ardent within, as if that flitting view
of charms he might once have possessed was a reminder that he was
not yet too old for temptation.  For he had not forgotten that
beneath those Bacchic garlands he might have been, but was not, a
conqueror.  Even to-day the memory vibrated in his steady nerves,
while he felt that some remembered delight awakened a faint echo of
rapture.  Of all his tender recollections this, he told himself,
was the only one that aroused a reminiscent emotion.  This was the
only one, too, that he had been able to bury away from Victoria.
Other secrets he had kept, but they were all of an innocent nature.
He had, it is true, suppressed the obscure indiscretions of
railways; he had even suppressed the simple indiscretions of
secretaries; but his share in these hidden misdemeanours had been
invariably blameless.

After the rapture of that August evening why, he wondered now, had
he awakened the next morning with diminished ardour?  Why had his
desire, with the innate perversity that makes desire so unsound as
a guide to behaviour, dissolved into a mixture of bitterness and
regret?  Where was that hidden flaw in his nature which made it
harder for him to commit a pleasure than to perform a duty, which
compelled him to hesitate and fail in the hour of adventure?  Where
was the moral scruple that commanded him to give up Mrs. Dalrymple
before he had fallen in love with her?  The following evening,
though he knew that she waited for him, he had taken a heartless
satisfaction in the thought of her disappointment.  While he wrote
a long and unusually demonstrative letter to Victoria, he had been
astonished to find that even an imaginary infidelity had restored
his relish for the temperate joys of marriage.  To-day he could
reflect, with the surprise of a husband and the complacency of a
philosopher, that he loved Victoria the more because he had been so
nearly unfaithful.  Such, he meditated deeply, are the inscrutable
contradictions of passion.  Such are the concessions to nature in
the code of a gentleman.  Was modern youth, he asked despondently,
capable of these logical inconsistencies and these swift recoils?
Was there, after all, so great a disparity between two social
epochs as people liked to pretend?  Women appeared different on the
surface; but had they actually changed beneath their figures?  Was
the heart in Milly's flat little chest still as erratic as the
heart in Mrs. Dalrymple's once opulent bosom?  For even Mrs.
Dalrymple's bosom, he had not failed to observe, was no longer
opulent.  Almost insensibly this led him to a deeper and more
delicate speculation.  Could she have changed also within?  Had her
ardent temperament decreased with her diminishing shape?  For was
it reasonable to imagine that a flat bosom could contain all the
true womanliness provided by the ample curves of the 'nineties?

A few weeks after his old desertion of her Amy Dalrymple had closed
her house and sailed for Europe.  Before he heard of her again his
wife and children had returned with improved opinions and modest
but fashionable appearances.  Dullness has no right to grow middle-
aged, he had mused the first evening at dinner, while he listened
to the opinions that Victoria had assembled as methodically as
Curle had supplied his album with postage stamps.  Then, aided by
his disastrous adventure, his marriage had relapsed into the serene
monotony that so often wears the aspect of happiness.  He had
believed himself to be contented until the war in Europe had
inflamed all those repressions that it failed to set free, and the
Peace of Versailles had extended more important frontiers than
physical boundaries.  Presently, when the flood of war idealism had
subsided, he discovered that Mrs. Dalrymple's indiscretion had
diminished in size.  New and perhaps ignoble standards had emerged
from the conflict.  For the decadence of Europe was slowly
undermining Virginian tradition, and even the Southern gentleman,
he told himself, was beginning to suspect that the ruined woman is
an invention of man.  Was it possible, Mr. Littlepage inquired,
fearfully but hopefully, that there was something wrong with the
past?  Deeper than law, sharper than logic, this corroding doubt
penetrated his mind.  Was there a fatal flaw even in the Episcopal
Church?  Was the ideal of pure womanhood infested with moth and
decay?  Beneath these derisive questions, it seemed to him that the
stern but noble features of the categorical imperative had been
battered beyond recognition.  How often in his youth had he heard
his father lament somebody's "loss of faith," as if such a
deprivation were a calamity.  Yet he himself had found that a world
without earnest conviction could be far from uncomfortable.  It
afforded, among other luxuries, ample leisure to regret all the
pleasant opportunities that one had missed in the past.  And
gradually, as he grew more relaxed in principle, he began to
sweeten disapproval with tenderness when he thought of Amy
Dalrymple's frailty.


"Mr. Littlepage, you have forgotten to sign your letters."

The voice was reproachful, and he glanced round with a whimsical
apology in his soft brown eyes.  "I'm sorry, Milly.  I am not often
so careless.  You must find excuses for me to-day," he added in the
playful tone he reserved for sentiment.  "I am as useless as an
expectant lover."

Milly looked at him with the composed tolerance of modern youth.
"Your daughter has been away a long time."

"She went the week you came.  That, I think, is one of the reasons
I've always felt you were related to me."

"Well, it wouldn't have made any difference.  You couldn't have
been kinder."

"There were perhaps better ways, but I was too stupid to think of
them.  Whenever you looked unhappy I thought of Mary Victoria in
the Balkans--or even in Paris."

"She wasn't obliged to go back, was she?"  There was an accent of
derision in Milly's voice.

He smiled indulgently, for his sense of humour, unlike Victoria's,
embraced not only his wife and himself, but his children as well.
"She thought so.  You see, the war didn't last long enough to
exhaust her moral energy.  She was obliged to use up a good deal
that was left over.  She remembered the distress in the Balkans,
and of course there is always Armenia."

"Anyhow, I'm glad for your sake that she is coming home."

"Yes, I'm glad, of course, but--I may as well admit it--I'm a
little afraid--"

"Afraid?  You mean she may have changed?"

"It isn't only that.  I suppose I've missed her too much.  Are you
waiting for these letters?"

"No, I'll come back after I've got my coat.  Everyone else has

As the girl left the room, he turned back to his desk, while his
whole being was swept by paternal solicitude.  Was Victoria, he
wondered, suffering from this anxious expectancy?  Could even a
mother have hungered more acutely for the sight of a daughter?  All
day it had been impossible to govern his mind properly when he
remembered that every hour, every minute, was bringing Mary
Victoria nearer his arms.  Ever since she had cabled him the date
of her sailing, he had waited her return with a curious mingling of
delight and reluctance.  Hope and fear were so blended that he had
long ago ceased to distinguish between the conflicting emotions.
Whenever he thought of Mary Victoria, it seemed to him that his
heart dissolved into a rainbow mist, and flowered anew in the
vision of a little girl wearing a short white frock with starched
frills and a blue sash tied in a big bow at the back of her waist.
Always she came to him like this; never older, never younger, than
she had looked at the age of seven.  He saw again her shining
auburn curls, confined by a blue ribbon, her innocent grey eyes
beneath winged eyebrows, her sturdy sunburned legs in white socks
that were ribbed at the top, and her blunt childish feet in black
kid slippers with prim straps at the ankles.  Nothing in his whole
life, not Victoria in her bridal veil, not Curle in his soldier's
uniform, not Mary Victoria marching in a Red Cross parade, had ever
touched him so deeply as the image of those helpless feet in white
socks and black slippers.  The living Mary Victoria had outgrown
his protection.  She had advanced so far ahead of him that her
nearness as a daughter had diminished while her stature as a
philanthropist increased with the distance.  What remained to him,
he sometimes felt, was only a vision painted on air of a child with
clustering curls, eyes as innocent as stars, and bare sunburned
knees above the ribbed bands of her socks.

Having signed the letters, he lighted a cigar and sat nervously
smoking until Milly returned.

"You've been working too hard," he remarked as he looked up at her.

She shook her head.  "No, it isn't that.  It isn't work."  Her face
looked pale and tired; her usually smooth dark hair had drifted
down in a mist over her forehead; her dress, an old one that she
wore on wet days, was faded and unbecoming; but her eyes, large,
deep, radiantly blue, were burning with life.  Judged by the waxen
ideal of the 'nineties, he knew that she was not beautiful.  Beside
Mrs. Dalrymple's rose-leaf bloom and texture, Milly's face, he
reflected, would appear almost wasted.  There were hollows in her
thin cheeks and her small, white teeth were uneven; yet these
hollows and this unevenness became, when she smiled, a part of her
indescribable charm.  Months went by, since few men were less
predatory, when he was scarcely aware of her presence.  Then,
suddenly, without warning, the recollection of his absent daughter
would bring Milly into his mind, and he would awaken to the bright
audacity in her laugh, or to the look of wistful expectancy in her
April eyes.  For an instant he would become intensely alive to her
gaiety, her suffering, and her defiant courage.  "Is it possible,"
he would ask himself, with a start, "that a woman can be noble
without goodness or good without virtue?"

"If it isn't work," he said gently, "it must be worry, Milly."

The corners of her lips quivered.  "Well, you can't help worrying,
can you?"

"I am not sure.  People who don't worry tell us we can."

"Then they've never been in love.  I sometimes think love isn't
anything else."

"Are you still unhappy, my dear?"

Her eyes darkened with pain.  "I want Martin.  I've always wanted

"I had hoped you were getting over the worst."

"No, I haven't got over it.  I haven't got over it even a little."

"Perhaps you will when you hear something definite.  I'll ask my
daughter as soon as I can see her alone.  But don't hope for too
much.  It is a mistake to hope for too much or you are sure to be
disappointed.  If there had been good news, Mary Victoria would
have told us."

"You said just the opposite a year ago."

"Then I was trying to keep up your courage.  Now I am preparing you
for a blow."

"Well, I shan't have long to wait.  But the last hours are the

"I'll call you up as soon as I speak to her.  No, I'll come to see
you, that will be better.  I'll have a talk with her to-night, and
if it isn't too late, I'll come straight to see you."

"If anything has happened to Martin, I don't want to live, I don't
want to live."

"Do you still care as much as that?"

"As much as that?"  Her tears were brimming over.  "I love him.
I've loved him since the first minute."

"How old were you then?"

"I wasn't eighteen until August, but I knew what I wanted."

"Well, you can't blame your mother for thinking you were too

"She hated Martin.  She never had happiness and she could not bear
the thought of my having it."

"You must not say things like that, Milly."

"But it is true."  She looked at him defiantly.  "What good comes
of lying about things?  People used to believe in lying, but we
don't any longer."

"Do you believe in anything now, Milly?"

"Not in shams.  I have a right to my own happiness as long as I
play the game fairly."

"And you think that you have played the game fairly?"

"Haven't I?"  Her eyes were like blue flames.  "My life is my own.
I haven't hurt anybody but myself."

"Are you sure of that, Milly?  You must have brought pain to your

"It was her own fault.  She tried to manage my life.  She tried to
make me into what she was at my age."

"Can you blame her for that?  She believed it was best, for you."

"No, it wasn't that.  She simply couldn't bear my having a life of
my own.  She has always thought happiness immoral.  That was why I
had to run out to Martin at night after she went to bed.  She never
let me see him at home.  She never let me see anybody."

"I suppose she thought she was right."

"She has always thought that.  Her thinking that drove father away
from home."

He looked at her sternly.  Oh, modern youth, modern youth!  "You
must control yourself, Milly."

"Would you rather I'd be deceitful?"

"I'd rather you'd show proper respect for your mother."

"Do you want me to say I love her?  I don't.  I don't even like
her.  She has ruined my life.  I had a right to my life, and she
has ruined it."

"Other people can't ruin our lives."

"You wouldn't say that if you knew mother better.  She could ruin
anybody's life.  She was afraid that I'd be like father if I once
found out that there is such a thing as happiness."

"She was mistaken in that.  You must remember, however, that her
own life had been tragic.  She had lost her other children, and
your father had deserted her."

"She drove him to it.  I never blamed father."

Nor, if the truth must be told, could Mr. Littlepage, who was
imperfectly acquainted with Mrs. Burden, find it in his heart to
blame the fugitive husband.  There are human rights, he mused
sadly, that should be respected even in marriage.  There are
virtues so prickly that no mortal thing, not even a husband, could
be expected to live in the house with them.  "No, I may be wrong in
principle and deficient in moral constitution, but I have never
felt that I could blame him."  Erring, no doubt; yet how human,
how comprehensible, how heroic, some desertions appear to a
philosopher!  In spite of his own happy marriage, he had suffered
all his life from a secret leaning toward faithless husbands and
other undesirable acquaintances.  Vainly he had tried to trample
down these low but vigorous impulses.  Vainly he had endeavoured to
prefer the right-minded and to pity only the deserving.  But
something stronger than his will--was it a secret pulse of wildness
in his heart?--had urged him to an irregular alliance with the
obscure and the profligate.  How much of this, he had often
speculated, was owing to his childish admiration for his elder
brother, Marmaduke, who, after driving an ambulance under fire, and
leaving a sturdy right leg in the war zone, had climbed as high as
the picturesque attic of Mrs. Burden's lodging-house?  Not that
Marmaduke was impoverished; merely that he was more or less
disreputable in his opinions.  Had the repressed longings of their
mother, whose nervous temperament had overflowed into water colour,
achieved a more or less permanent form in Marmaduke's pictures?  Or
was it merely the prevailing fashion of fancy-work, as his father
pretended, which had festooned their French mirrors with wild roses
and decorated their satin sofa pillows with snowy landscapes?
Marmaduke, because of his turn for painting and his zest for
experience, had been in childhood his mother's favourite; and there
were glimpses of her still in the reformed romantic, who now
occupied, with the hilarity that recollections of a well-spent life
so seldom afford, a dormered room overlooking the sunsets on James
River.  Beneath this once imposing though now ramshackle roof, in
an obscure street, which had been as conspicuous for fashion as it
was now safe for bootlegging, Marmaduke painted with vehemence in
firm strokes of red, blue, and yellow.  As if, Mr. Littlepage had
reasoned sadly, an artist could be sincere only in primary colours.
Devoted as he was to his brother, Marmaduke's pictures had always
seemed to Virginius too unpleasant to be natural, and too--yes,
even if he did sound like Curle and the New South--too un-American
to be really modern.  For if Marmaduke had stayed in America, and
painted the outside instead of the inside of his subjects, he might
have won by now an enviable reputation, and probably have sold his
more flattering portraits of women.  Even in Queenborough, where,
until recent years, conversation had been the favourite and almost
the only art patronized by the best circles, wealthy citizens were
beginning to realize that, if books look well in a library, pictures
lend even more emphatically the right note in decoration to the
walls of a drawing-room.  All this and even more Marmaduke had
forfeited by his light conduct and his intemperate opinions. . . .
And the worst of it was that Virginius found it impossible to blame
either the hostilities in Europe or the bad example of the German
army for the profligate disposition of his elder brother.  Many
evils he held against them, but, being a just man, he could not
charge them with this one.  Milly's wildness, he felt, might have
sprung, however indirectly, from the invasion of Belgium; but he
must look deeper and perhaps further, he knew, to find the source
of Marmaduke's moral infirmity.

While he meditated he had almost forgotten that Milly was waiting,
a small black hat pushed down over her eyebrows and a purple
umbrella swinging by a cord from her hand.  Beneath the dark cloud
of hair, her eyes were starry and watchful.

"How long has it been since you heard from Martin?" he asked

"Oh, an age!  He was going to the Balkans, he wrote, because it was
either that or starvation.  Relief work made him sick, but there
wasn't anything else ahead of him.  He told me he wasn't worth
thinking about and I'd better forget him.  As if I could!" she
added passionately.  "As if I could forget him just because he is a

"It is a pity you can't, my dear."

"But I don't want to.  I don't want to forget him."

"Well, that's even more of a pity."

"For a time I tried not to think of him.  Everything but a part of
me seemed to forget."

"Was that the best part of you?"

"It was the deepest part.  It was the little hard kernel of memory
that makes a sore all round its edge."  Her features, swept by
tremulous wings of longing, were rapt and enkindled.  How could any
man who had been loved like that have forgotten her?  Was the
fellow mad?  Or was he already dead and well out of the way?

"It was a pity you never told him about--about your trouble,

"I tried to spare him."  At her voice, which was a mere thread of
emotion, he turned to her quickly.  "I never told him because I
wanted him to have only happy memories.  Even if he ceased to care,
I wanted him to have only happy memories."

Looking at her, as she stood there in her youth and her despairing
passion, which was the youngest thing, he reflected, about her, Mr.
Littlepage reminded himself for the hundredth time that it was
impossible for a man to understand women.  The firm ones were
necessarily less difficult to comprehend than the frail; but even
the firm ones were not so easy to understand as they used to be.
In the old days, Mr. Littlepage admitted, a man had only himself to
blame if he did not soon discover at least where he stood with a
woman.  He thought of his father, a Virginia gentleman of Georgian
morals but Victorian manners, who had found it less embarrassing to
commit adultery than to pronounce the word in the presence of a
lady.  Well, it was fortunate, no doubt, that he had not survived
the decorous nineteenth century.  Certainly the conversation, if
not the conduct, of the post-war age would have been the end of
him.  For the modern revolt, Mr. Littlepage was beginning to
realize, was less immoral than experimental.  The change was not
merely a breaking away, as in the case of poor Aunt Agatha or even
of Mrs. Dalrymple, from social conventions that one still respected
and Sabbath observances in which one still believed.  No, the
saddest thing about Milly's past, he mused, was that she had been
able to leave it so lightly behind her.  Considered merely as the
sort of impediment that had figured depressingly in fin de sicle
drama.  Milly's wild oats looked as small and almost as harmless as
canary seed.

"If her life had not been spoiled, she would have made some man a
fine wife," he meditated regretfully.  Though he considered a
passive attitude in love more feminine, and preferred an amiable
softness to a tragic intensity, he felt that a man who was
unacquainted with Mrs. Dalrymple might surrender to the sheer
variety of Milly's charm.  What a pity it was, indeed, to discover
that charm is so often divorced from the cardinal virtues.  What a
pity it was that deserving characters, who made the most excellent
wives by daylight, should be so frequently denied the magic that
works best in darkness.  There was, for example, Victoria's closest
friend, Louisa Goddard, an admirable spinster, who would have made
the reputation of any man she had chosen to marry.  Tall, majestic,
silver-haired, and as subdued in bosom as she was emphatic in
gesture.  Louisa was scarcely less distinguished than Mrs.
Dalrymple--but with what a difference!  He admired Louisa
cordially; he even liked her, though she held what he still called
"advanced opinions," and lectured upon the obscure morals of
civilizations that have crumbled to dust and are therefore safe
topics.  Conspicuous in her youth for sound sense, a handsome
figure, and discreet manners, she had developed an intrepid
intellect in later years, and since the war she had discoursed
publicly but prudently upon the more interesting theories of social
reform.  In this enterprise, to his mild astonishment, Victoria,
who thought evil of no persons and of few reforms, supported her
friend.  "It is so important to look at these subjects from the
right moral angle," his wife had explained, with her usual generous
simplicity, "and if there is a woman in Queenborough capable of
doing this, surely it is Louisa."  To-day, after a lecture upon the
Morals of Babylon, Louisa, who was wealthy by inheritance but
saving by constitution, would certainly drive home in Victoria's
car.  In common with other men Virginius admired frugality in woman
almost as fervently as he respected chastity, and even when, as in
the case of Louisa (who could never spend her income, but refused
to employ a chauffeur), economy approached the border of avarice,
he felt that the fault was merely a defect in a sterling virtue.
And what a mind she possessed!  It was almost incredible, he had
confided to Victoria after an informing talk with Louisa, how much
you could learn about human depravity without vital contact with
life.  Not, of course, that she was ever indelicate.  She was, on
the contrary, refined enough in tone to satisfy Marmaduke, who had
the fastidious taste in such matters of a confirmed libertine.
That, Mr. Littlepage assured himself, was a reasonable explanation
not only of Marmaduke's loose living, but of his prolonged absence
from the flesh-pots of Europe.  He was still hoping, with the
sanguine temper peculiar, his brother had observed, to reformers
and reprobates, that Louisa, who had refused him at twenty and
thirty, would relent at fifty and supply him with a good and
sufficient excuse for mending his habits.


Milly had slipped away while he meditated, and from the window a
little later he watched her purple umbrella tossed about by the
flying gusts in the street.  How slender she looked against the
driving rain!  How slender and helpless and yet how determined!  It
was almost six years since she had first come to him, and in those
years, though he deplored her liberal behaviour, he had become
deeply attached to her.  "I wonder if it is possible to be kind to
a woman without growing fond of her?" he thought, for his mood was
indulgent.  Then, since there was still no sign of Victoria, he
turned back to his chair and diverted his mind by moralizing upon
Milly's unfortunate past. . . .

She had come to him on a stormy afternoon in that dreadful last
winter of the war, while Victoria was divided between the Red Cross
and an epidemic of influenza, and Mary Victoria was inspiring the
American Army in France.  Why, he wondered, was that winter
fantastically associated in his mind with wild roses in water
colour and snowy landscapes on satin sofa pillows?  At the time
Milly had barely recovered from influenza, and she was still
suffering from poverty and frustrated desire.  Yet he had felt her
charm even then.  He had felt her charm in spite of her thinness,
her pallor, the heavy circles under her romantic eyes, and the
pitiably neglected state of her clothes.  After he had engaged her
(for good typists, being of adventurous disposition, were scarcer
than munition workers that winter), she had fainted from weakness,
and he had felt strangely chivalrous and paternal.  Not until
spring had he discovered that her trouble was as real as her
poverty; and by that time the war and contact with loose-living
Europe had broadened the sympathies, or softened the moral fibre,
of Queenborough.  Was it really the war, he asked himself, that had
at last loosened the bonds of tradition?  Was it the haunting
thought of Mary Victoria, lovely and alone, among the predatory
males of Europe?  Or was it the visit he had endured from a genteel
lady in weeds, who broke to him in mournful accents that she was
Milly's respectable but unhappy mother?

"I am sure I don't know where she gets her character, sir."

"It is easy to believe that, Mrs. Burden."

"She was always brought up as proper as proper."

"I am sure of it."

"I sent her to Sunday school as soon as she could lisp.  I took her
with me to church and to missionary societies and prayer meetings
whenever I had a decent dress to put on.  Those were the only
amusements she ever had as a child, except sewing for one of the
little converts in Africa.  She never ran out at night like other
girls, and it isn't my fault if she found there were wild sorts of
pleasure.  I declare I don't know what the world is coming to now,
but it isn't as bad, of course, as if I had any cause to reproach
myself.  I've been a good mother, and I was a good wife, even if I
wasn't treated as well as I ought to have been.  However, I didn't
hold that against Albert after he died.  I've worn mourning for him
now going on thirteen years or more."

Such, incredible as it sounded in memory, was the nature of Mrs.
Burden's complaint.  Though she had lived the better part of three
generations, she had remained mentally arrested in the God-fearing
posture of evangelical piety.  Her long sallow face, hopelessly
flattened out by life, had worn an expression of resigned but
uninspired martyrdom.  Above invisible eyebrows her yellowish-grey
hair was plastered down on her forehead, and her pale, tight lips
were as rigid, he had said to himself, as a clothespin.  That she
should be Milly's mother had seemed to him as incomprehensible as
almost everything else in the age.  Drab features, drab voice, drab
spirits.  Estimable, in character, no doubt, estimable, but
depressing to any husband who had not lost the active instincts of
a vertebrate.

"I hope your daughter has been considerate of you," he had
remarked, with the sharp recoil every sentimentalist feels in the
presence of a repugnant fact.

"She ought to be, sir.  I've done my duty by her, if I do say it."

"I am sure she realizes that."

"You'd never know it if she does, sir.  I sometimes think she was
born without family feeling, like her father before her."

"Indeed!"  Mr. Littlepage felt helpless, and wondered why you could
be so much more indulgent to human nature when it was not in the
room with you.  At a reasonable distance, across the street, for
instance, he had felt compassionate toward Mrs. Burden, and had
been disposed to blame Milly for a deficiency in filial respect.
"She seems to be a warm-blooded girl," he had added impressively.

"She is where you don't expect it of her," Mrs. Burden had sighed,
while she sank dejectedly into her crape.  "That was her father's
way, too.  He would always pass over the persons who had a right to
expect feeling from him and fling himself away on somebody without
the shadow of a claim to his affection.  And it has been the same
with Milly.  All this would never have happened if she had
inherited a proper sense of duty."

"No, I suppose not.  But is this young Welding the only one?"

"You'd think one was enough, sir, if you'd heard the way she took
on when he went abroad.  That was the first time I knew things were
not what they should be between them.  It wasn't until three months
after he had sailed that I found out she'd gone wrong, and then I
begged her on my bended knees to let me write and tell him what I
thought of him.  I'd have done it without asking her, but I knew if
she ever suspected it, she would desert me just as her father did
after I had him sent to gaol for his own good."

"Do you know whether she writes to this young man?"

Mrs. Burden had broken into eloquent tears.  "Only cheerful
letters, she says, only cheerful letters that won't make him
reproach himself."

This was indeed a fresh point of view, and a questionable one even
to the tolerant masculine mind.  Modern, perhaps; yet he felt sure
that Mary Victoria, who was as advanced as Milly though in an
opposite direction, would have indignantly repudiated such moral
evasion.  In his youth reproach had been the natural, if by no
means the only, weapon of pure womanhood, and he disliked seeing it
discarded so easily by a girl who was, to put it mildly, no longer
a shining honour to either sex.  Still, since he was unpolemical by
disposition, he had remarked gently:

"That seems an unfeminine attitude.  What is her reason?"

"How do I know?  She never tells me anything.  When I question her,
all she ever answers is that I have no right to interfere with her
life.  No right to interfere!  If I haven't a right to interfere
with her, is there anybody who has, sir?"

"Perhaps not.  Well, it is a sad case, Mrs. Burden, a very sad
case.  You have my sympathy.  I will talk to your daughter, though
she will doubtless consider it an interference, and I will see what
can be done for her."

What he could do proved to be, in the end, more than he had hoped,
though scarcely less than he had expected.  He had talked mildly
but gravely to Milly that afternoon, and finding her tragic,
mocking, and scornful of the conventions that he esteemed, he had
surprised in his heart some deep pulsations of sympathy.  Though he
had been prepared to counsel the erring, he was soon bewildered,
not so much by Milly's unrepentant attitude as by the perilous
response in his own nature.  It was, he had recognized reluctantly,
his duty to discharge her; and he had intended, after making
suitable provision, to fulfil his moral obligation.  For the sake
of his other secretary, the impeccable Miss Dorset, for the sake of
Victoria, for the sake of his own unsullied reputation, he told
himself, it was undesirable that Milly should remain in his office.
Several particulars, nevertheless, he had failed to consider.  He
had weighed respectability, but not human relations; genteel
conduct he had taken for granted; but he had overlooked the fatal
indulgence of the paternal heart, and the softening influence of a
daughter who is as far away as the Balkans.

"Your mother has been to see me," he had begun sternly.

Light had rippled into Milly's changeable face, and it seemed to
him that the sadness in her eyes sparkled with laughter.  "I am
sorry," she had answered mockingly, "I tried to spare you."

"She is greatly disturbed about you."

"Poor Mother.  She is obliged to be disturbed about something.  If
it isn't about me, it will be about public morals."

"You are making her unhappy."

"I don't make her so.  She was born that way."

"She tells me," he had said severely, "that you have been very

Though her voice was defiant when she answered, there was, he
remembered, a springtime freshness in her eyes.  "Well, we are all
wild together, aren't we?  There's murder in the air."

"I don't like your levity, Milly.  In spite of your manner, I
refuse to believe that you are incorrigible."  So little, he
reflected, had she resembled the proverbial lost woman that
Goldsmith himself would scarcely have known her for what she was.
It is true that her clothes had harmonized better with the
institutional than the romantic idea of a life of sin.  Her dress,
he had observed, was cheap, faded and carelessly worn, and her
shoes had borne, to his inattentive eye, every sign of having
trodden the downward path.  Touched by her evident poverty, Mr.
Littlepage had thought of his daughter, and had felt his harshness
dissolve.  Many things had softened his heart, but most of all the
memory of Mary Victoria as she had looked as a child.  In the end,
he had decided to reprimand Milly instead of washing his hands of
her.  Any good woman would have dismissed her without regret; but
men, he mused now, pricked by a sensation of guilt, are softer by
nature--or is it merely more brittle?

"She tells me you are in trouble," he had said.

"I suppose she would call it that," Milly had retorted, with the
flippancy he feared and expected.

"What do you call it?"  How unfeminine she was beneath her perverse

"I haven't had it long enough to know.  I may call it trouble, too,
before it is over."

"Why didn't you marry him, Milly?"

"How could I when we hadn't any money and there was Mother to look

"If you couldn't marry him, why didn't you wait?"

An inward storm had darkened her eyes.  "I have a right to my

No lady of the nineteenth century, neither poor Aunt Agatha, who
had been completely crushed, nor Mrs. Dalrymple, who had been
merely tarnished, by betrayal, would have asserted an inalienable
right to her life.  Yet this fantastic notion appeared to be the
solitary principle that modern youth was willing to embrace.  Even
Mary Victoria, who would have been an inspiring example in any
period, had taken a firm stand in defence of her natural right to
do as she pleased.  The difference appeared to be that, while Milly
was satisfied with the right to her own life, Mary Victoria
demanded, from the purest motives, the right of moral encroachment
upon the lives of others.  Had duty, which in his youth meant
violence to his appetite, become to-day merely a label for
unbridled impulse?

"As long as you know what you want most, what do you ever get by
waiting?" Milly had asked, turning upon him the unembarrassed
scrutiny with which her intrepid age regarded vital statistics.
"Look at Mother.  She waited for Father until she had dried up to a
husk.  Of course, if you aren't in love," she added presently, "it
is different.  But, if you are in love, then you know that nothing
else really matters."

He had looked at her attentively.  Was there, after all, something
more than selfishness in Milly's outlook on life?  Unfortunate as
her lapse from virtue appeared, he could not deny that she wore
that confident air which makes a settled point of view more
respectable than a vagrant emotion.  Independence of character had
acquired, on the surface at least, all the lustre he associated
with conversion from sin.  It was impossible to imagine Milly
either crushed like poor Aunt Agatha or tarnished like Mrs.
Dalrymple.  In demanding the right to sin, she had, he told himself
disconsolately, elevated an improper act into a mistaken theory of
conduct.  Was not this, after all, the superior advantage attained
by the present vocal generation over the reticent feminine mode of
the 'nineties?  To reduce behaviour to a formula, however wanton,
appeared miraculously to invest it with the dignity of an
intellectual habitation and a name.

"I refuse to argue with you, Milly," he had said sternly.  "I can
only tell you that you have opened the door to regret."

He had expected contradiction, but she had astonished him, after a
thoughtful pause, by a gesture of agreement.  "Oh, well, I should
have regretted either way, shouldn't I?  I am always regretting
things.  But the regret for what you have had doesn't last nearly
so long as the regret for what you have missed.  Life isn't for
ever.  What is the fun of dying before you have lived?"

"The trouble is that you have learned nothing from the past--
nothing from the experience of other women."

"From Mother, you mean?"

"Not only from your mother, but from all women everywhere.  You
have set out to demolish conventions before you have tested them."

Her eyes had mocked him.  "But, you have tested them, haven't you?
And where have they led you?  Could anything that we do or think
end in a greater calamity?  No, we'll have to learn the truth for
ourselves.  Nothing that the older generation can tell us will do
any good.  We refuse to accept your theories because we saw them
all break to pieces.  The truth is we are determined to think for
ourselves and to make our own sort of ideals.  Even if everything
you say to me is true, I shouldn't consent to take my experience
from you second-hand.  I want to find out for myself.  I want the
freedom to live my life as I please.  I want to choose the things I
believe in. . . ."

Delusion?  Sophistry?  Or the simple moonstruck folly of youth?  Is
it possible to reason, he had asked himself helplessly, with
frustrated desire?  Useless to argue.  Useless either to advise or
admonish.  Since he was as generous as he was tolerant, what could
he do but invoke the forsaken ideal of chivalry and protect her, as
far as he was able, from the errors of her own undisciplined heart?


The wind whipped a spray of rain in his face, and through the
scattering mist he distinguished the fine presence of Louisa
Goddard in the back of the car.  A handsome woman, notwithstanding
her years, with stiffly waved grey hair, a high flush in her thin
cheeks, and the sharpened nose that so often accompanies virginity.
Why, he speculated idly as he made his way to the car, could not
virginity preserve the figures of spinsters without sharpening
their noses?  Yet, in spite of her aquiline features, Louisa was
more attractive, he admitted, than she had been as a girl.  She was
one of those rare women who improve with age and become active
instead of apathetic as they grow older.  Grey hair, which he
disliked as heartily as most men, had done a great deal, he
acknowledged reluctantly, for her appearance, while the lecture
platform, which he disliked even more than most men, had done quite
as much for her manner.  Behind the footlights she had acquired the
courage of an evangelist and the attitudes of a Shakespearian

As he entered the car she leaned forward, and he met her lively
hazel eyes behind the rimless glasses which, he had decided, were
becoming as long as she did not expect him to kiss her.

"Where is Victoria?" he asked when he had taken her gloved hand.
"Has anything happened?"

Louisa shook her head, and the light flickered from her glasses to
the reddened tip of her nose.  "She was not feeling well.  She has
gone home to lie down before Mary Victoria comes."

"Not well?  I am sorry.  She overtaxes her strength."

"Yes, she never considers herself.  It is impossible to make her
remember that she isn't so strong as she used to be.  She has never
been the same since that attack of pneumonia."

While Louisa responded, he looked at her gravely and wondered where
her conversation was leading.  Like so many women who have missed
romantic happiness, she was extravagantly fond, he felt
indulgently, of minor mysteries.  With her bright flush, which had
come with middle age, her lively glance, and her vivacious
expression, she appeared to carry her years bravely.  Beneath her
small black velvet hat, with the new high crown, which she wore
slightly tilted, the scalloped line of her hair gleamed like
polished silver.  She dressed better than Victoria did and on less
money; but, then, he had long ago decided that unattached women or
widows, however afflicted, always managed to dress better than
matrons.  Singular as it was, he had noticed that the less reason
women have for keeping up an appearance, the more time and energy
they lavish upon the effort.  Take widow's weeds, for example.
What garments, especially what bonnets, could be more fetching,
more coquettish even, than the ones Mrs. Dalrymple had worn in her
bereavement?  Yet she had been genuinely distressed, he knew.  Her
heart, as she had so often assured him, was buried in Peter
Dalrymple's grave.  Only she had not buried her dark eyes and her
amber hair behind the flowing crape of her veil.  He could still
see the way her widow's ruche had intensified the brightness of her
hair, the velvet dusk of her eyes, and the bloom of her lips.
Twelve years ago, and yet--and yet--Well, she was back in
Queenborough again for the first time since the war.  A little
tarnished, perhaps.  Not ruined, of course, like poor Aunt Agatha
(we were not living in the 'seventies, thank God!), but still a
trifle damaged by the unsavoury, or at least indelicate, character
of her past. . . .

Sadly but firmly dismissing the subject, he turned back to Louisa,
who was still occupied, he could see, with her mystery.  Whatever
it was, he decided after a minute, she was equally competent to
discuss or dispose of it.  Had it anything to do, he asked
anxiously, with Victoria?  Or was it merely one of those unpleasant
moral dilemmas that beset the slippery paths of philanthropists?
In Louisa's youth, while Marmaduke courted her with all the ardour
exacted by that romantic period, Virginius had wondered at the
fascination she exercised.  There was, he had thought, and his
mother had agreed with him, something masculine in her prominent
features and her pronounced opinions upon public affairs.  Thirty-
one years ago, he meditated sorrowfully, neither prominent features
nor pronounced opinions in women commanded admiration from the
opposite sex.  How much of Marmaduke's long faithfulness was owing,
Mr. Littlepage had once asked himself, to that truculent
temperament which keeps the artist in perpetual conflict with
destiny?  But in the last few years, and especially in the years
since the war, he had realized that, after all, there are
attractions more enduring, if less delightful, than physical charm.
There is, he admitted, with all the distaste of a chivalrous mind,
the pleasure afforded by an intelligent interest in life.  Though
he was inclined to regard any spinster as a being blighted by fate,
he was obliged to acknowledge that Louisa had attained the perfect
sophistication which finds social misdemeanours less exciting than
the imponderable sins of psychology.  He glanced at her composed
features (it was a pity that the tip of her nose reddened so easily
in cold weather), and from her features to her flat bosom, firmly
encased, beneath her sealskin coat, in moral principle.  Yes,
decidedly a sterling character.  A trifle dictatorial, to be sure,
and frigid, no doubt, in temperament.  Only by regarding Louisa as
frigid in temperament could he explain her old rejection of
Marmaduke, who had been a promising suitor in the 'nineties, before
he lost his leg and adopted the French view of sex.  Yet, in her
case at least, frigidity had not, apparently, interfered with
enjoyment of life.  At fifty-odd (he was sure of her exact age)
she was the happiest and the most industrious woman of his
acquaintance.  Turning suddenly, she leaned toward him with an
alert birdlike movement, as if she were about to peck at a
succulent morsel.  While he waited patiently enough he hoped that
she was not occupied with the mouldy problems of Babylon; for,
though he preferred ancient history to modern, he disliked and
resented the platform manner in women.  Victoria, the perfect wife,
reformed by inspiration alone; but Louisa, who possessed a more
active mind, undertook to do so by both example and precept.

"I hope I didn't keep you waiting," she began crisply, as if she
were determined to overlook anything that he had said.

"Well, a little while, but I left off working earlier than usual.
I dare say I am impatient.  Mary Victoria doesn't come home every
day from the Balkans."

Louisa smiled.  "Victoria says that Mary Victoria is the romance of
your life."

"That is because Victoria forgets herself," he returned gallantly.

"Yes, that is just what I said to her.  I told her also that she
ought to be the one to prepare you."

"To prepare me?"  From the bottom of his masculine soul he hated
mysteries and disliked having them broken to him.

"Victoria was not feeling well, but the real reason she went home
straight from the club was to have the blue guest room put in

"The blue guest room?  Isn't Mary Victoria's old room big enough to
held her and her Balkan decorations?"

"We thought so yesterday.  But while Victoria was at the club, she
talked over the telephone with Curle in New York.  It seems that
Mary Victoria is bringing a surprise with her.  She is not alone."

"Not alone?  Has she adopted a war orphan?"  Though he spoke in
stolid tones, he wondered if Louisa could fail to hear the
fluttering sound of his heart.  For the war, as he assured himself,
was well over, and even in Queenborough, war orphans had diminished
in public esteem.  It was, of course, conceivable that Mary
Victoria's orphan was not only indigent but of royal descent.  Such
a combination, he had heard, was far from unusual in the countries
in which she had exercised her benevolence.  But, even so, he was
inclined to think that the blue guest room, which Victoria had
recently had done over at great expense, was too good for a

Louisa raised her lashes and studied him with her sympathetic,
amused, and faintly ironic expression.

"It isn't an orphan, Virginius," she answered slowly, while the
lively hazel of her eyes softened and darkened, "though I confess
that would have astonished me less when you consider all the
thousands of them she must have held in her arms.  You never," she
added reproachfully, "did justice to Mary Victoria's wonderful work
with her orphanage."

"If it isn't an orphan, then--well--"  He looked at her imploringly.
"It isn't a Russian, Louisa?"  For it seemed to him that, whatever
the sex or parentage of Mary Victoria's surprise, he could bear
anything better than its being a Russian.

"Oh, no, Virginius."  Louisa, who had a masculine sense of humour,
was actually laughing.  "What an imagination you have!  No, it
isn't any kind of orphan, my dear friend, though I am not sure that
mightn't be better.  It is a husband."

"A husband!"  As he gasped out the word he felt that the worst he
had expected would have been better than this.  "A husband and a

Louisa shook her head.  Her manner was as composed as ever, and it
occurred to him resentfully that she was enjoying the sensation she
created.  "There isn't but one, and I didn't say he was a refugee,
even a left-over one.  No, Mary Victoria might sympathize with
refugees, but she is hardly the kind of girl to marry one."

"Tell me all."  The words were swept out on a sigh of relief.
"Don't break anything to me.  Nothing can be so bad as suspense."

Though he could see that she was disappointed, she was too human at
the core to resist his appeal.  "As well as I can understand she
has been interested in this young man for several years.  It was
all very confused over the telephone, and you can imagine what a
shock it was to Victoria.  But she is quite positive that Curle
said it wasn't a recent affair.  It seems they were married five,
or maybe it was four, months ago."

"Four months ago, and she never told us a word of it!"

"I suppose there must have been what seemed to her a good reason.
Anyhow, Curle says he is not at all bad-looking and seems to have a
mind of his own.  Mary Victoria met him first, several years ago,
in a hospital.  He was, Curle said, in a terrible state when she
found him, though he had not apparently lost his appearance.
Besides, Mary Victoria feels that she saved his life--and you can
understand what that would mean to a high-minded girl."

"You haven't told me his name."  Fear was crawling round his
thoughts like a caterpillar on the edge of a leaf.

"Well, Victoria took that more to heart than anything else.  I mean
his coming from Queenborough and our never having heard of him.
However, as I told her, that makes very little difference to-day
when few people can afford to marry into the best families because
they are all so impoverished.  Blood is the last thing I'd think
about, and, after all, he is so obscure that he may have descended
from a Colonial governor."

"You haven't told me his name," he repeated, and there was the
rasping sound of suspense in his voice.

"Welding, Martin Welding."  She paused to drive it in, and then
added brightly, "I am sure it has a very distinguished sound.
There used to be a family of that name in the Northern Neck, and
even if he doesn't belong to them--well, sound is really more
important to-day than anything else, except, of course, money,
which he doesn't appear to possess."

Mr. Littlepage breathed with difficulty.  Was it possible, he
wondered, collecting his faculties, that he was on the point of
having a stroke?  "I don't care about the family," he rejoined
presently.  "I don't care about the money--damn it!  I beg your
pardon, Louisa, I must have forgotten myself.  But--but this is
worse than anything I imagined.  Mary Victoria had no right.  She
must have known, or at least suspected the truth--"

He broke off and choked back his words, arrested by the thought
that.  Louisa was ignorant, unless Victoria had told her, of poor
Milly's disaster.  "The truth, Virginius?"

A feeling of prostration, of inexpressible futility, rushed over
him.  What an unfair advantage life could take of the young, of the
poor, of the generous in heart!  That Mary Victoria, his own
daughter, his noble, earnest, high-minded daughter, so eager to
sacrifice herself in [what now appeared to him as an inaccurate and
abominable phrase], world service--that Mary Victoria should have
been involved in this moral catastrophe!  "That is the young man I
asked her to make inquiries about in Paris," he said thickly.  "I
know very little about him, but the little I know I dislike."

"You mean that there is something to his discredit?"

"Decidedly."  He felt that mute rage would strangle him.

"I hope it is nothing about a woman," Louisa observed, with a
competent air.  "I hate discreditable things in connection with

For a moment Mr. Littlepage hesitated; then indignation triumphed
over prudence.  "I happen to know that he was--well, deeply
interested in another young woman before he was sent to France."

"Not a girl we know."

"Well, not a girl you know."

"But a good girl?"

"That depends upon what you mean."  There were moments when Louisa
exasperated him.

"I mean a moral one."

"I take that for granted."  He hesitated, and then added firmly,
"Yes, she is a good girl."

Though he knew that Louisa had one of the kindest hearts in the
world, he resented her unaffected enjoyment of picturesque scandal.
"I suppose I oughtn't to have told her," his legal instinct
admonished, "but I can't help it if my temper gets the better of my
caution once in a blue moon."  Horror had fastened upon him, and
not horror alone, but an anguish of indignation and pity.  He knew
now that Victoria was right when she said that his daughter had
been the romance of his life.  In his misery he heard the beating
of the rain on the closed windows of the car, and it seemed to him
that it was the sound of an inward desolation which flooded his
soul.  Through the November dusk there flashed now and then, like a
sinister warning, the headlights of a car, or the wet gleam on the
rubber coat of a policeman.  He had almost forgotten that Louisa
was still beside him when she broke into his reverie with one of
her pointed questions.

"Do you mean that he was engaged to her?"

"I couldn't mean anything less."

As she leaned toward him with an emphatic gesture, her rimless
glasses dropped from her nose and he looked straight into the
unsullied depths of her eyes.  "Virginius, this is very serious,"
she said in an urgent voice.

"Yes, I suppose it is--or it would have been considered so when I
was young."

"At all costs we must keep it from Mary Victoria.  After all, she
is my godchild and I feel that I share your responsibility."

"Perhaps she knows."  He didn't mean that, not really, he told
himself, but Louisa's suppressed excitement ruffled his nerves.

"Not Mary Victoria!  Can you imagine her taking a man away from
another woman?"

"No, I cannot.  But you must remember that she has spent five years
in Europe.  They do things differently in Europe."

Louisa assented brightly as if she enjoyed it.  "You can't go over
every summer without discovering that."  Holding her glasses in the
tips of her fingers, she firmly replaced them on her nose.  "I
feel, however," she continued presently, while she straightened the
platinum chain studded with seed pearls which she wore attached by
a gold safety pin to her bosom, "that Mary Victoria is superior to
any temptation."

With this he was in sympathetic accord.  "Yes, she takes after her

Louisa's face softened and flushed, as it always did when she spoke
of Victoria.  Even as children they had been inseparable, and
marriage, which destroys so many earnest friendships, had only
sealed their devotion into an indestructible bond.  While most of
Mr. Littlepage's intimate associations with men had gradually
weakened and melted away, it seemed to him at times that Louisa had
been drawn into his marriage and had become a central part of his
placid life with Victoria.  Though he had always admired rather
than enjoyed her, he respected her talent for making herself
indispensable in a crisis.  At the birth of every child Louisa had
sat all night, without unfastening a button, near the foot of
Victoria's bed, ready, at the nurse's fateful whisper, to fetch
whatever was needed or telephone for the physician.  It was Louisa
who had brought him the news of his first son, and it was Louisa
who had murmured to him the inspiring name "Mary Victoria."  She
had been near at birth, and she was nearer still when death had
taken, first two of his children, and then his father, whom he had
worshipped, and Victoria's mother, whom he had esteemed and
disliked.  It was impossible to think of his children without
remembering the mornings when, still erect and trim in appearance,
Louisa had poured his coffee, while Victoria looked more virginal
than ever beneath the sky-blue canopy over her bed.  It was
impossible even to recall the house of mourning without a grateful
memory of Louisa's capable dealing with funerals.  As she grew
older, it is true, her interest in what she called "the new
psychology" became tedious to his imperfect sophistication.  "Poor
Louisa," he had once sighed to Victoria.  "If she ever falls from
virtue how disappointed she will be to find that there is so little
in it."

The car had reached his door, and Louisa, thrilled by the secret
between them, was urging him to let her go alone to the station
while he remained at home with Victoria.  "Victoria needs you," she
reminded him impressively.  "There are things that you ought to
talk over together before you see Mary Victoria.  After all," she
repeated in a faintly sepulchral tone, "I am her godmother, and she
is almost as dear to me as she is to you."

In the beginning he had resisted; but it was useless to oppose
Louisa when she had definitely made up her mind.  "Perhaps you are
right," he admitted at last.  "I confess it has been a blow to me.
Maybe I'd better get braced up a bit."

"You are very sensible, Virginius."  From her manner no one would
have suspected that the suggestion had come from her.  "It is much
better to accustom yourself to the idea before you see Mary
Victoria with her husband.  If I go alone to meet them, you and
Victoria will have time to collect yourselves and arrange your
plans.  Since you have confided to me what you know of this young
man, I feel more strongly than ever that you should have time for

He looked at her keenly.  "Is it necessary to tell Victoria this?
I spoke imprudently to you."

She looked hurt but magnanimous.  "Not to me, Virginius.  You could
not speak imprudently to me."  Then, after a thoughtful pause, she
added with gentle sagacity, "No, it is not necessary to tell
Victoria, but it will be natural."

"You mean I can't keep a secret?"

"I mean you can't keep that kind of secret."

"Victoria has high ideals."

"All of us have high ideals, my dear friend.  There aren't any low

Cool, composed, mistress of herself and her destiny, she drove on
and left him gazing after her more in respect than admiration.
Yes, Louisa was a brick; and if like all other bricks, whether they
are composed of baked clay or valiant dust, she was deficient in
charm, he could not, he decided, as he ascended the baronial steps
of his house, imagine a well-regulated world that existed without


Forty years ago, the Brooke mansion, as it was respectfully called,
embodied all the culture to be derived from a fortune safely
invested in Northern securities.  Built by old Silas Woolley, who
had died in the comfort of his shirt-sleeves, the dwelling had
passed to his granddaughter, Victoria Brooke.  As a young husband,
Mr. Littlepage had been proud of living in a house that was pointed
out to visitors as "the finest example of improved Colonial."
After all, "improved Colonial" may mean anything, even Victorian
gloom, if one is sufficiently liberal in one's ideas.  Unhappily,
the malice of the years, which is so often diverted by architecture,
had subdued the innocent pleasure with which Virginius had once
regarded the imposing faade.  Nothing, however, could impair his
respect for the refined taste and unerring tact of his wife, who
appeared to have inherited only her fortune and her house from her
grandfather.  "It is nonsense to pretend that blood is a match
for money in the second generation," Mr. Littlepage mused.
"Notwithstanding an ancestor in the Susan Constant, to say nothing
of a Colonial governor and a British general thrown in, I am raw
material when you compare me with old Silas Woolley's

In the spacious hall, which he never entered without the feeling
that he comprised a whole invading army, he found his elder son,
Duncan, a dark, morose, and inscrutable young man.  In France,
where he had served with ardour in the last year of the war, Duncan
had lost not only his health, but all the amiable pretences which
had made life supportable.  Even the armistice, which had left so
many relief workers unsatisfied, had come too late to save him from
that singular French decadence which only the Latin mind is able to
find piquant.  At thirty, he was as cynical as Marmaduke, and far
more depressing.  For Marmaduke's cynicism, however unwholesome,
preserved the Attic salt that imparts a relish to the stalest
philosophy.  But, after all, Marmaduke was past sixty, and at sixty
it is possible to disbelieve in life and love and yet find them
amusing.  Though Duncan was as trying in the house as other
philosophers, Mr. Littlepage preferred her nocturnal moods to the
morning brightness of Curle.  Even as a baby Curle had annoyed him
by his inordinate zest for living.  Nothing, not even his first
tooth, had been able to dampen his spirits; and he had actually
appeared to enjoy teething almost as much as he enjoyed a world war
some twenty-odd years later.

"Have you seen your mother?" Mr. Littlepage inquired with an
anxious frown.

Duncan turned on him a long sallow face, which was good-looking in
a saturnine fashion.  "You look as if you'd heard of Mary
Victoria's final reform."

"I am very much distressed, my son."

"What did you expect?  We can't have a world war every day."

"If you take that tone, Duncan, I cannot discuss it."

"I am sorry, sir."  There were occasions when Duncan dropped back,
whether from reverence or ridicule his father had never discovered,
into the ceremonial usages of the past.  "I was hoping you would
look at it philosophically.  After all, as Curle remarks so
accurately, everything might have been worse.  It might have been,
considering Mary Victoria's thoroughness, a whole asylum instead of
a husband."

"I cannot understand why she married him."

"Perhaps she wanted to make an honest man of him."

"I must repeat, my son, that your tone is offensive."

"Oh, I beg your pardon, Dad.  I didn't mean to be offensive.  I was
merely trying to be cheerful."

"You needn't.  God knows I get enough of that from Curle."

"Mother had had a little too much of it, I imagine, over the
telephone.  Poor Mother!  If only she could realise that life isn't
spent either in Heaven or Hell, but in the sultry isthmus of

"I am sorry she took the message.  Do you know what Curle told

"She was too agitated to repeat it, but it seems to have been
hopeful enough to depress her."

"Yes, it will go hard with her.  She expected so much of Mary

Duncan smiled in derision.  "Well, she got a little more than she

"All of us aren't so cynical, my son.  You must remember that your
mother, like most good women, is an idealist.  My father used to
say there is only one thing more incorrigible than an idealist, and
that is a predestinarian."

"You'd think the war would have cured anybody, even those who were
so unfortunate as to be left out of it."

Mr. Littlepage smiled sadly.  "Well, you must try to pity rather
than censure the old fogies who still believe that anything makes a
difference.  After all, as Marmaduke will tell you, if there were
no ideals there would be nothing left for us to kill each other

"There's no need to tell me.  You'd better tell Mother and Aunt
Louisa."  The children had been brought up to call Louisa "aunt."

"Well, we needn't argue about that.  What we must do now is to help
your mother bear a great disappointment."

This time it was Duncan who smiled, though he was, as his father
said to himself, in no smiling mood.  "It seems to me, sir, that
the one who really needs help is this poor devil of a husband.  Do
you know anything of him?"

"Very little, and that little, I am sorry to say, is not to his
credit.  But we must try to suspend judgment."

"Well, that sounds encouraging.  I didn't know Mary Victoria had so
much human nature."

"Your jesting is in bad taste.  Where is your mother?"

"I left her in her bedroom a few minutes ago.  Poor Mother!  She
would find life so much more livable if she could only give up
being happy."

"She couldn't, Duncan, even if she wanted to.  It is more than her
religion, it is her very nature to keep hoping for the best and
trying to make the world better.  Think of all she must have
suffered with you in the army, Curle in a training camp, and Mary
Victoria in the Balkans.  That must have tried not only her faith
but her cheerfulness."

"Yes, I suppose that turned her optimism into a nervous habit.  I
sometimes think the muscles of her face have never relaxed since
the war."

"You can't blame her for that.  It wasn't easy to keep smiling."

"But why the devil did you have to keep smiling?  What is there so
heroic in pretending the world is what it isn't.  It's like the
everlasting Holy Rolling of American politics.  That's what makes
me sick about Curle."

"Don't be too hard on your brother.  The noise he makes may be only
a whistling to keep up his courage."

There was a sneering note in Duncan's rejoinder.  "Well, if he
doesn't look out, he will whistle himself into office.  He is as
average as a President."

"Curle keeps up with the procession, my son, and we do not.  Even
though we may object to his special brand of democracy, we cannot
deny that he is one of the men who are responsible for our whole
march of progress."

Duncan laughed almost naturally.  "Yes, I'm ready to admit that.
By the way, Mother doesn't wish us to drink anything more cheering
than grape juice at dinner.  She hopes, for the first night,
anyway, until she has had a chance to inform herself about the
habits of Mary Victoria's husband, that you will follow Curle's
example and turn your back when you drink."

A cloud passed without settling over Mr. Littlepage's genial
features.  "Well, join me in the library before dinner," he
responded gloomily; and reflected that he could forgive Victoria
all the good she had ever done him if only she would occasionally
appear to be in the wrong.

"Thank you, sir, but it seems to me a trifle hard on the poor
devil.  All I can hope is that he has been prudent enough to
provide against our habit of reforming everybody but ourselves."

Turning away, with the uncomfortable sensation that Duncan was more
than a match for him, Mr. Littlepage ascended the wide staircase
and entered the very simple and expensive bedroom he shared with
Victoria.  From the portrait of one of his least prudish
ancestresses by Sir Peter Lely, which hung over the Adam
mantelpiece, to the delicate acanthus leaves on the fluted posts of
the twin beds, and the flowered brocade of the Duncan Phyfe sewing-
stand, the room had always impressed him as being, in some
extraordinary fashion, less real than it appeared on the surface.

When he entered, Victoria, who had slipped into a tea-gown of
violet velvet, turned her cheek for his kiss with her usual wifely
composure.  Though she had lost long ago her virginal loveliness,
she had ripened at middle age into a handsome and fruitful-looking
woman.  Her complexion was still fine in texture, but she flushed
easily and there were tiny clusters of veins in her smooth round
cheeks.  In the last year, after her severe illness, her brown hair
had begun to turn grey in patches, while her limpid eyes had been
ruffled by a look of apprehension--or was it merely a startled
wonder at life?  What she had never lost, what she could never
lose, he felt, as long as she remained herself, was the expression
of unselfish goodness that quivered in an edge of light about her
pale full lips and imparted firmness and nobility to her features.

"I suppose Louisa told you," she began, while she lifted her arms
to fasten a necklace of amethysts.  Her hair, which was thick and
soft but without lustre, was piled high on the crown of her head,
after a fashion of the early 'nineties.

"Yes, she told me, but I could scarcely believe my ears," he
answered in a discouraged tone.  He saw at once that she had been
weeping, and though, like most other men, he resented tears when
they were shed in earnest, he was touched by the sight of
Victoria's reddened eyelids.  "It must have been a shock to you,"
he continued, kissing her again with deeper tenderness but
diminished enthusiasm.  "Curle ought to have telephoned me first."

"He tried to, but you were in that conference.  I wish you could
have met them."

"I am not sure that I do.  It seems to me just a little too much."

A sob quivered in Victoria's voice.  "I could have believed it of
anybody sooner than of Mary Victoria."

"Well, what was her excuse?" he broke out indignantly.  "Why did
she do it?"

"We'll never know unless she tells us.  In another girl I should
call it an infatuation.  But Mary Victoria!  Can you imagine Mary
Victoria infatuated?"

"Things happen every day that I cannot imagine."

"Not things like this.  Not to girls like Mary Victoria."

"Don't you suppose every parent must feel that way?"

"It isn't feeling only, Virginius.  Think of Mary Victoria's record
for world service.  Think of her independent work in the Balkans.
Think of the way she refused to desert those friendless orphans
after the war."

"Oh, world service!" he groaned, and felt that the syllables
smacked of hypocrisy.  "After all, even the best war records do not
make good peace programmes," he continued presently.  "And I
prefer, on the whole, not to think of the Balkans."

"You don't mean to imply that Mary Victoria has been unsettled in--
in . . ."  The question, which had begun bravely enough, trailed
off to a whisper.

"Well, I shouldn't be too sure of anything to-day, not even of your
own daughter.  I don't mean, of course, that her moral principle
has been undermined.  It would take more than an idea, it would
take an axe, to undermine Mary Victoria's principles.  Still she
has been subjected to long contact with the Balkan temperament . . ."

"I am positive," Victoria insisted gently, "that no amount of
immorality could shake Mary Victoria's ideals.  What disturbs me is
the thought that this young man may have worked upon the child's
noble impulses."

"Yes, I've thought of that."  He appeared anxious and distressed,
as indeed he was.  "But it seems fairer to suspend judgment."

At this Victoria beamed upon him with more than wifely sweetness.
"You couldn't be unfair, Virginius, if you tried," she responded,
which was, Mr. Littlepage felt, as much as any husband has a right
to expect.  "Yes, it is more charitable to suspend judgment.  And
we must remember," she concluded in a brighter tone, "that whatever
his past has been, he will have a wonderful influence in Mary

In the severe discipline of marriage Mr. Littlepage had cultivated
the habit of looking at his wife without seeing her.  It was only
in those rare intervals when his evasive idealism was transfixed by
the sharp flash of reality that he perceived how time--or was it
marriage?--had altered his vision.  The wonder of it, he felt,
while the actual Victoria stood imprisoned between the pointed
beams of fancy and fact, was that he could ever, even in the flower
of her girlhood, have found her exciting.  That he had fallen in
love with her features was less astonishing to-day than that he was
once interested in her opinions.  Even now he could see that she
was one of those women who might still be beautiful if they had
less confidence in the fidelity of their husbands.  But her mind,
which must have matured with years, could scarcely have been more
interesting at twenty than it was at fifty.  To be sure, he found
himself insisting, she had been a perfect wife to him, and as a
husband rather than a human being, he was still faithful, he was
even devoted.  Was it merely, he asked himself, that he had grown
older and more settled in spirit?  Yet there were moments in spring
and autumn, when he was still young enough to feel that a thwarted
buccaneer ranged in his soul, while the quiet air about him was
charged with the bloom of the wild grape or the magic of drying
vines.  And in these moments, before this frail rapture broke, he
would grasp again the perilous illusion of desire without end.

"I've had the two guest rooms put in order," Victoria was saying,
for her practical mind could always find comfort in the details of
living.  "I couldn't bear the idea of putting a strange man in Mary
Victoria's room."

He remembered the care with which she had just had her daughter's
room papered and painted in ivory.  Only yesterday she had shown
him the yellow organdie curtains and the sea-blue glazed chintz for
the furniture.  After all, it was harder on Victoria, he told
himself, because she had no outside profession into which she could

"Well, perhaps she is used to him by now," he remarked with gentle
derision.  "We are in danger of forgetting that he is her husband,
not ours."

On her dressing-table, in an oval frame of ivory, there was a
miniature of Mary Victoria, which her mother had had painted in
Florence.  Crossing the room, he studied the prim little features
and the tight auburn curls gathered back above the delicately
arched eyebrows and fastened by the familiar bow of blue ribbon.
The nose and chin were firm for a child, and the lovely slate-
coloured eyes were too serious for laughter.  Yes, it was
impossible to deny that Mary Victoria's character was as humourless
as her war record.  "Marmaduke is right," Mr. Littlepage thought
dejectedly, "our lack of genuine gaiety was proved even before we
invented the pompous farce of prohibition.  No civilization with a
true sense of humour could afford to take so seriously the feminine
instinct and throw to the winds the gay masculine devil of

"This is the hardest blow we've ever had from one of our children,"
Victoria was saying.  "Even Duncan, with his unsound views, has
never distressed me so much."

"What did Curle say to you?"

"Oh, he spoke as if it were a pleasant surprise.  You know how
Curle is."

"Yes, I know," he assented with weariness.  "I asked him how it had
happened, and he said that Mary Victoria had saved this young man's
life.  As if that were a sufficient reason for marrying him."

"It might be for Mary Victoria.  Most women seem to feel that way;
but it is unfortunate that there are so many worthless lives to be
saved.  It is nothing less than a criminal assault upon the law of
the Survival of the Fittest."

"Don't be flippant, Virginius.  It isn't a laughing matter."

"I was never more serious, my dear."

"Your tone doesn't sound like it.  Curle said that Martin Welding
called her his good angel.  I suppose he was speaking the truth."

"No doubt.  Gordon Crabbe, you remember, called her that also.
Think how desperately we opposed that marriage; yet God may have
known best if only we had not interfered."

"Even disappointment, Virginius, will not excuse levity.  Besides,
that marriage would have taken Mary Victoria to Africa.  Anything,
it seems to me, is better than that."

"I am not sure.  At least Gordon Crabbe had a fine character and
came of good stock."

"Well, she never cared about family."

"I know.  She is like Curle."  If he had uttered his entire
thought, he might have added, "After all, what are the Woolleys?"
but it was not for nothing, he reflected, that he had bridled his
inquiring mind in the early days of the Browning class.  Moreover,
prudence warned him that no American stock is common enough to be
plebian to its descendants.  So he said merely, "Louisa went to the

"I sometimes wonder what we should do without her.  She is so
helpful in trouble."

He looked with distrust at the ornamental clock on the mantelpiece,
and then drew out his watch.  "They ought to be here now any
minute.  If you have nothing more to suggest, I think I'll brace
myself with a highball.  Duncan has warned me that there will be
grape juice for dinner.  It's a pity that I happen to be expecting
my bootlegger this evening."

"Oh, Virginius, can't you manage to put him off?"

"It isn't easy to catch him, you know.  But there isn't the
slightest cause for anxiety.  Socially, you must remember, he is
more presentable than a parson.  Have you forgotten that he is both
a college graduate and a member of one of the oldest families in
the Tidewater?"

Victoria gazed at him sadly but without reproach.  All the more
prominent pillars of the society in which she lived supported the
institution of bootlegging; and custom, which breaks laws and makes
morality, had reconciled her law-abiding instincts to this
ubiquitous lawlessness.

"I must have an opportunity to talk to Mary Victoria.  If drinking
should be his weakness, surely you would not wish to subject him to

"Surely not.  But in that case we'd be prudent to turn him over to

"If only you would treat serious subjects seriously, Virginius!  Of
course what I said was merely a surmise.  Only--only--"

"I know, my dear, and after Marmaduke there must be the deluge.
However, this young man isn't expected to live with us, is he?"

"I hope not, but we must consider Mary Victoria.  I can't tell
anything until I have had a long talk with her."

"Then the best thing I can do is to keep out of it."  Turning away
with a sigh, he was enveloped immediately, it seemed to him, in the
colourless atmosphere of an existence that he led without desire,
without even volition.


With outstretched arms and the smile of an eager but doubtful
lover, Mr. Littlepage watched Mary Victoria float toward him on the
drifts of rain between the two fire-coloured maples.  His first
thought was, "She is lovelier than I remember her"; his second,
"And happy!  I have never seen her so happy."  Had he really
forgotten the direct carriage, the radiant energy of her figure,
the dovelike grace of her small head, with its wings of bright
auburn hair, the tranquil beauty of her grey eyes?  As she melted
into his arms, another idea sprang from confusion into vacancy.
"She is her mother all over again, only there's more of her."  More
of her not only in height and beauty, but in character, in
determination, and in moral purpose.

"Dear Father!"  She kissed him tenderly before she drew away with a
gesture of pride and protection.  "This is Martin, my husband.  I
wanted to bring him to you as a surprise, but Curle insisted upon
telephoning Mother this morning."

When she passed on to her mother, Mr. Littlepage reluctantly held
out his hand to his son-in-law.  Not a bad-looking chap, he
repeated to himself, while he struggled in vain to think of some
phrase that would sound adequate when spoken aloud.  To his dismay,
a single rebellious sentence drummed passionately in his mind, and
he heard over and over the question, "Why did you betray Milly
Burden?"  Well, he could scarcely, at the very beginning of their
acquaintance, make the single inquiry that he felt to be of vital
significance.  Men, he reflected, especially men who were Southern
gentlemen, had long ago agreed to refrain among themselves from
embarrassing questions.  Interrogation, like reproach, was one of
the minor perquisites attached to the otherwise dubious privilege
of being a lady.  A little later, upon a more appropriate occasion,
the question might proffer itself uninvited.  A little later--but
not now, not in this first glorious hour of Mary Victoria's return.
While these thoughts spun rather than slipped into his mind, he
gazed, in a silence that he tried to make hospitable, at the flat
dark hair, the pallid and somewhat too pointed features, and the
burning hazel eyes of the man whom Mary Victoria had chosen out of
a whole world, or at least a whole continent, of scarcely less
desirable males.  Not bad-looking indeed, he assented almost in
spite of himself.  Better in appearance anyway than that
sanctimonious fellow, the missionary, who had passed straight from
world service to one of the more exclusive tribes in the Congo.
But there's something wrong, he found himself observing the next
instant, with the startling eyes of this chap.  Attractive no doubt
to a woman; but, in the judgment of a father-in-law, they appeared
too bright and inscrutable, as if they had come suddenly upon
something that nobody ought to have seen.  Then Martin smiled at
him; and this smile, very slow, very winning, explained, he felt,
the dangerous infatuation of Milly Burden, but not of Mary

"Well, this is a surprise--a surprise indeed," repeated Mr.
Littlepage, with an animation which, he felt, was excessive in
buoyancy.  "You must give us a little time before we are expected
to call it a pleasure."

"Oh, I shall never expect that of you, Mr. Littlepage," Martin
replied slowly; and his voice, smoothed down by a foreign accent,
was agreeable in quality.

The pause might have been awkward if Curle had not plunged, with
his sanguine courage, into the break.  "Why shouldn't we decide to
take no chances, Father, and call the marriage a success from the

"Where is Louisa?" Mr. Littlepage inquired, glancing over the
mountain of luggage.  There was something wanting, he told himself,
in a family crisis that failed to embrace Louisa.

"She stopped on the way.  Aren't you going to ask us into the

"I beg your pardon, my boy.  Come in, come in."  Glancing up the
staircase, he saw Mary Victoria and her mother ascending, with arms
interlocked, to the floor above.  "Perhaps you'd like to stop for a
moment in my library," he added, as cordially as the circumstances
permitted.  "Mary Victoria must want a talk with her mother."

"And you must want one with me."  Well, you could pick no flaw, Mr.
Littlepage admitted, in Martin's attitude.  It was reasonable; it
was encouraging; it was even correct.  Looking at the young man,
while he sank into one of the soft leather chairs, his reluctant
father-in-law decided that he might have made a suitable, if not an
ideal, husband for Milly Burden.  For Milly Burden, but not for
Mary Victoria, who, with her conquering loveliness and her secure
fortune, had every right to demand the best that nature provided.
And, after all, now that he confronted Martin Welding like an
embodied retribution, how could he begin?  What could he say to a
son-in-law who had once been the lover and must remain, in Mr.
Littlepage's thoughts, the perpetual seducer of trusting innocence,
or--even if girls were no longer as innocent as they used to be--of
trusting devotion.  For he was one of those unusual men to whom
betrayed devotion appears a deeper wrong than damaged innocence.
He was fond of Milly, of course, and if he had not been fond of
her, he should still have felt that he wanted to tell this
attractive rotter with the burning eyes what he thought of him.
Well, youth was not like that in the 'nineties.  When he was young,
a man thought twice before he seduced a woman of good family; and
Mrs. Burden might be tiresome, but she came of decent and
respectable stock.  He had, it was needless to remind himself
sadly, known Southern gentlemen who were immoral; but they had
been immoral, in the teeth of a severe code of honour, with
discrimination.  They were held accountable not only by a proper
regard for religion and a true reverence for pure womanhood, but
later, when all these defences of virtue failed, by the precepts of
chivalry and the point of the pistol.  When they wished to
misconduct themselves, they had, with such notorious exceptions as
Colonel Bletheram, stepped down discreetly from their superior
station in life; and in the ages of gallantry, which were undaunted
by the perils of miscegenation, they had stepped down also from
their superior shading in colour.  These unpleasant truths, thought
Mr. Little page, who had become resigned to the universe, are the
facts of life that every man discovers and no man discusses.  But
in those robust epochs sin was sin, he mused, and not merely an
inhibited pleasure.

His eyes roamed over the background of English calf, of red
morocco, of beautifully tooled bindings, and finally came to rest,
over the mantelpiece, upon the distinguished profiles of the first
Littlepage in Virginia.  "Before you go upstairs is there anything
I can do for you?" he inquired as he drew out his watch.  "We dine
usually at half-past seven."

The young man brightened into his agreeable smile.  "Nothing,
unless you can give me a drink.  I feel as if I were giving way
somewhere inside."

For the first time Mr. Littlepage observed that a royal decanter of
old Bourbon still remained on the table.  Duncan must have left it
there when he fled at their approach.

"I'll take one with you.  Only you must give me your word that it
isn't a habit."

"It used to be, but Mary Victoria doesn't allow habits in

While he scrupulously measured out his whisky, Mr. Littlepage
glanced at his son-in-law with a stifled feeling of human--or was
it merely of masculine?--solidarity.  "I ought to know," he
thought, without uttering the imprudent confession, "for I married
her mother; and Mary Victoria is her mother all over again, only
more so."  Aloud he remarked lightly, "Anyhow, I promise not to
tempt you too often."  Holding his own glass to the light, with a
sigh of supreme satisfaction, he reflected that only in his
diminishing stock of Bourbon or Baumgartner could he still savour
the lost bouquet of living.

"Oh, it's safe to tempt me," Martin retorted.  "I've already

"Not too far to enlighten us, I hope, upon the reason--or at least
the meaning of this surprise."

Again that wistful and slightly ironic smile.  "Mary Victoria can
answer that better than I can.  I suspect, however, that she
married me because she saved my life and didn't know what else to
do with it.  That is the nuisance of saving people's lives.  They
are on your hands and you've got to do something about them.  I had
the kind of claim upon her she couldn't ignore."  After a barely
perceptible pause, he added in a tone that was half tender and half
satirical, "She has been my good angel."

Mr. Littlepage nodded.  "I gathered that much from Curle."

"Well, I think it explains everything that Mary Victoria has done."

"Perhaps.  And now, if you don't mind my putting the question so
soon, what plans have you made for the future?"

"Absolutely none.  I've nursed an incurable hope, you know, that
I'd be spared any future."  Having emptied his glass, he put it
down and remarked with a laugh that reminded Mr. Littlepage of his
elder and least successful son, "At the moment, however, fortified
by this incomparable Bourbon, I am reconciled to the present."

"Am I to understand that you are making no effort to earn a

"It isn't as bad as that.  I suppose I'll have to find something to
do.  I used to work, you see, but this damnable war stopped me.
When they told me I was needed for killing, of course work had to
go overboard."

An ominous frown gathered upon Mr. Littlepage's benign forehead.
Not only did the Great War now occupy a position scarcely less
honourable than the pedestal upon which he had placed the war for
the Confederacy, but he was naturally suspicious of a husband who
was not at the same time a conscientious provider.  "What kind of
work were you doing?" he asked in a more reserved tone of voice.

"In the beginning it was crockery, but after that I went into a
bank.  Crockery paid better, but the bank left me more time for
writing.  You see, I have always wanted to write."

Though the candour of the young man was disarming, it seemed
incredible to Mr. Littlepage that Mary Victoria could have stooped
to the obscure, if blameless, business of crockery.  And worse even
than the business of crockery, which, though inelegant in sound,
retained its decent status in society, was the confession that his
daughter's husband had been seriously "trying to write."  For Mr.
Littlepage was an ornament of that exclusive sphere in which
literature, like sin, is respected only when it enlivens the worm-
eaten pages of history.

"Well, I don't imagine there's much in that," he observed, and
inquired immediately, "By the way, what first took you into the
crockery business?"

"I had an uncle who kept a store on Broad Street.  It seemed the
easiest way to keep from starving while I learned to write.  Then I
went into the Metropolitan Bank.  I was doing better with my
writing when the war came.  After it was over they put me in a
hospital for a while, and as soon as I was out and free again, I
went back to France.  That was where I finally broke down and Mary
Victoria found me in time to save my life."

This, even if one failed to consider the ironic tone, was far from
what the most generous father-in-law could call promising.  More
and more, as the conversation followed its deplorable course, Mr.
Littlepage wondered if Victoria would be able to take a cheerful
view of the bare prospect.  "You don't imagine, do you, that
crockery and writing together would be sufficient to provide for a
girl like Mary Victoria?"

Martin shook his head, and it occurred to Mr. Littlepage that he
had never entirely collected his faculties since the surprise of
his marriage.  "Well, you see, Mary Victoria seemed to think we
needn't worry.  She didn't like the crockery business; but she had
some idea of speaking to her cousin Daniel Woolley.  He is
president of a bank, isn't he?"

"And you think you're fitted for that kind of work?"

"I didn't think so even when I was doing it.  But Mary Victoria has
settled it in her mind.  She has been, as I told you, my good
angel, and I have a dread of disappointing her."

"I know," Mr. Littlepage assented.  "But you must remember that
Mary Victoria is an idealist.  It is in the nature of an idealist
to expect a great deal of other people."

Martin sighed, while his thin, pale hand groped nervously toward
the decanter and drew back without touching it.  "That makes it all
the worse to be obliged to disappoint her.  She feels things so
deeply.  And do you know," he concluded, with a rush of confidence
that the older man found both imprudent and appealing, "I have a
fear of not measuring up to her standard.  I know, of course, that
I'm not half as big as I look to her.  She insists on seeing me not
as the utterly inadequate fellow I am in reality, but as a kind of
fallen archangel.  It isn't my fault, though nobody, least of all
her father, will ever believe it.  I never even in the beginning,
tried wilfully to deceive her.  I've told her again and again that
I am not worth half that she has done for me.  But it isn't any use
telling her.  She is still convinced that she is right and I am
wrong in my estimate."

All this was imprudent, reflected Mr. Littlepage; but it was as
familiar and almost as stale as a sermon.  For Victoria also had
had her aspirations.  No sooner had she fallen in love than she had
tried, though with the gentlest touch imaginable, to make him into
the sort of man he had never been and never could hope to become.
He had suffered the painful process of being moulded into an ideal,
as well as the far sharper pang of realizing the disappointment
that must have attended her efforts.  Too sincere for dissimulation,
too magnanimous for resentment, Victoria had steadfastly ignored
her failure, and had persevered, with unaltered sweetness, in
the pretence that Virginius and marriage and human nature in
general were all exactly what she wished them to be.  "As noble
as she is herself," Mr. Littlepage thought with tenderness.
For never, since that memorable evening in the Browning class, had
he felt the faintest disposition to deny that Victoria was noble in
character.  Her goodness, so far from being academic or acquired,
was as natural as her simple faith in the perfectibility of
husbands.  All her life she had diffused love as other persons
diffuse selfishness; and even in those frequent moments when he had
felt that the sweetness of marriage cloyed his spirit, he had never
forgotten that he owed more to her generosity than he could ever
repay.  Watching Martin's way with the decanter, Mr. Littlepage
told himself disconsolately that only the substance was different,
not the situation.  To his veracious mind, which prided itself,
however inaccurately, upon facing the facts of life, it was evident
that Victoria had had more plastic material to work upon than the
character of this inadequate young man afforded.  Yet, with this
finer clay and ampler measure to her hand, all that Victoria had
achieved was the pattern of a contented citizen and a successful
attorney.  Beyond this, he could discern no more exalted stature
than that of a presentable member of Queenborough society, in which
the custom of dining out with a limited number of one's least
interesting acquaintances moved in a monotonous circle from October
to June.  Into this circle, which grew duller as time and tide
encrusted the conversational platitudes, there entered occasionally
a new member, whose prerogative of wealth only those too poor to
profit by it had ever disputed.  Yet the only person who might have
irradiated the lustre of pleasure, for him at least, had long ago
ceased to appear in the sluggish air of these gatherings.  Not that
Mrs. Dalrymple was excluded by her station in life from what was
now an affluent and had been once an aristocratic society.  Even
her fall, had it been as ladylike as poor Aunt Agatha's, might have
been forgotten by everybody except a few crystallized virgins and
old Colonel Bletheram.  But her imprudent behaviour in the divorce
court, combined with the well-founded suspicion that she had
committed other pleasures abroad, had debarred her, in the opinion
of the best judges, from the privileges to which she was entitled
by birth.  Regrettable.  Almost deplorable.  For in the stiff and
slightly pompous dignity of his middle years, only the ardent
memory of Amy Dalrymple had fanned to life the flickering embers of
youth.  Nothing since his first love affair, not material
prosperity, not communion beneath the stained-glass memorial
windows in Saint Luke's Episcopal Church, not even the contagious
idealism with which armies are mobilized, had ever exalted him to
this starry altitude of the spirit.  While the echo of this lost
but unforgotten ecstasy awoke in his mind, he asked in a tone of
sympathy rather than rebuke:

"May I inquire, without seeming impertinent, where your education

"Exactly where it ended, in a public school.  If you ever attended
one, you know that the word 'education' is a euphemism of modern
democracy.  But I got a good deal out of books.  I think I may say
I got as much as any man could out of books."

Again Mr. Littlepage frowned while he studied his son-in-law.  The
reply, he told himself, left much to be desired; for literature as
a pursuit was even less profitable, and scarcely more distinguished,
than crockery as a business.  The young man's tone, with its curling
irony at the end of a sentence, reminded him of the disreputable way
Marmaduke talked in his attic, and he sighed to think that Mary
Victoria might have introduced a second artist into the family.

"Well, I shouldn't put too much faith in literature, if I were
you," he said presently.  "Without posing as an authority, I may
express the opinion that there isn't much material in Virginia
history that hasn't been already exhausted."

For a moment there was silence, and in the flatness of this
silence, Mr. Littlepage had a queer sensation that Martin was
smiling within.  Then, with an air of incredible patience, the
young man answered slowly, as if he were speaking to a foreigner in
words of one syllable.  "But historical novels are all tosh, you
know.  I am interested in life, not in costume and scenery.  I want
to get at grips with reality."

"Well, I shouldn't build my hopes on that kind of stuff," Mr.
Littlepage remarked mildly but firmly; for the word "reality"
startled him whenever it was divorced from philosophy and dragged
into literature.  In that uncomfortable moment, he was visited by
the fear lest Mary Victoria's husband should be afflicted with
Marmaduke's foreign taste for indecent psychology.  Then
remembering that he himself had acquired, since the Great War, a
cosmopolitan attitude towards Mrs. Dalrymple, he observed simply,
"I'm afraid there isn't much to be got out of literature as a

"Not in Queenborough.  Why, you haven't even a library, yet you
people pretend to be civilized."

For the first time Mr. Littlepage allowed his exasperation to ooze
into his tone.  It annoyed him profoundly that this young man of
ignoble antecedents should belittle the ancient and honourable
culture of Queenborough.  All the learning required to make a
Southern gentleman was comprised, as every Littlepage knew without
being told, in the calf-bound rows of classic authors and the
Prayer-Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

"Those of us who have leisure to read are able to provide our own
libraries," he rejoined, with dignity.  "Or if we are too
impoverished for that, we may always borrow with credit from our
friends who are better off."  Glancing up at the volumes he had
inherited from his father, he congratulated himself upon the ease
with which his declaration had been justified by his surroundings.

"Yes, I see, of course.  But you must remember that I could neither
buy nor borrow when I lived here.  However, I shan't be able to do
much reading until I have proved to Mary Victoria that you can make
your way in the world without being a mutton head.  Do you know, by
the way, what has become of her?"

While he looked at his son-in-law, Mr. Littlepage's liquid brown
eyes became opaque with a frozen reserve.  "She went upstairs with
her mother.  They have probably stopped to speak to poor Aunt

"Poor Aunt Agatha?  Is she an invalid?"

"Oh, no.  That's merely a habit that we fell into a generation ago.
Her life was wrecked in early youth by an unfortunate love affair
from which she never recovered."

"Good God!" exclaimed Martin Welding, while a startled horror swept
over his thin face.  "I remember now.  Mary Victoria told me about


"What were your impressions, my dear?" inquired Mr. Littlepage, in
modest blue and white pyjamas, of Mrs. Littlepage, in a prim
nightgown of white nainsook beneath a lavender flannel wrapper.
Around them, the familiar estate of marriage was preserved in the
unruffled calm of their bedroom as in an embalming fluid.  Against
the rear wall, the twin beds with fluted columns were neatly turned
down to the exact margin of embroidered linen sheets and fleecy
satin-bordered blankets.  On Mr. Littlepage's right side, a small
Heppelwhite table held a sky-blue tray bearing a thermos bottle,
a glass, a box of cough drops, and one of Mr. Strachey's
disrespectful biographies bound in a subdued colour.  Beside Mrs.
Littlepage, the companion table bore a lavender tray and thermos
bottle, a glass, a tube of veronal, and a well-worn Bible, which
opened with a book marker of purple satin, and contained, in
addition to the inspired print, a heterogeneous collection of
pressed flowers and poems culled from newspapers.  Though Mr. and
Mrs. Littlepage were so opposite in character and disposition, they
had achieved, in thirty-one years of effortless living, an
indissoluble union of habit.  And it was in obedience to this fast
nuptial tie that Mr. Littlepage, standing beside his downy twin
bed, asked this pregnant question of his wife, who lingered before
her mahogany dressing-table, with her soft ashen brown hair brushed
severely back from her forehead and a film of camphor ice over her
smiling lips.  Victoria was not a plain woman, and she might have
been very pretty still.  But she had either failed to employ or too
soon relinquished all the arts invented by those women who, from an
urgency of temperament or a pressure of economy, are dependent upon
the uncertain favour of men.  There had been moments in their
earlier years when he had wondered if her mildness could be merely
the outward expression of an indifference too passive to be
resentful in nature.  As they grew older, and especially since his
frustrated affair with Mrs. Dalrymple, he had accepted Victoria's
sweetness of disposition as gratefully as he enjoyed clement
weather in autumn.  It was in this thankful spirit that he now
repeated suavely.  "Well, what were your impressions, my dear?"

Pausing to rub the film of camphor ice into the firm but pleasant
line of her mouth, Victoria cast an anxious glance about the large
close room, which was as open and as unventilated as marriage.  "I
confess that I cannot understand Mary Victoria."

Mr. Littlepage sighed in agreement.  "I wonder if she really
understands herself.  Everything must look different since she came
back to America."

"Yes, I haven't a doubt that she is already beginning to ask
herself why she married so suddenly."

"Then you share my--well, not altogether favourable opinion?"

For an instant, while Victoria gave her mind to the problem, her
attractive features wore the look of a resigned yet wondering
Madonna.  "I cannot see that there is a single point of contact
between them," she said presently.

"They seem to be still in love with each other.  Being in love does
establish some kind of congeniality, I suppose.  But I agree with
you that he isn't worthy of Mary Victoria.  He is a good-looking
chap in his way; but his manners are as ordinary as Curle's, and
bad manners have a way of outlasting good looks."

"That was why Mary Victoria never took her eyes off him," Victoria
remarked sadly.  "She was nervous, I could see, lest he should make
a wrong impression the first evening."

"That worried me too," Mr. Littlepage rejoined irritably.  "If she
keeps it up, she will end by making him afraid to open his mouth.
Couldn't you advise her, very delicately of course, to leave him a
little more at liberty to make mistakes?"

Mrs. Littlepage shook her head.  "Poor child, she is trying her
best to help him.  Did you notice how lovely her face was when she
watched him?"

Yes, he had observed this, and it had reminded him of Victoria's
tender and protective way with the poets.  Her manner of reciting
Browning, as if she were trying so patiently to bring out the best
in him, had been the attitude, in an earlier fashion, of Mary
Victoria toward her husband.  "It is obvious that she is in love
with him," he admitted, while his expression hardened, and he
remembered that he had failed in his promise to see Milly that
evening.  Well, fortunately to-morrow was Sunday, and Sunday
appeared to be the day appointed by Providence for unwelcome
arrivals.  "She may, of course, if it is not too late," he added
grimly, "be able to make something of him."

"It will be his own fault if she doesn't.  No man could ask for a
finer influence."

"Except myself," Mr. Littlepage remarked with a smile.  "But that,
you know, is exactly what makes me uneasy.  All men do not react in
the same manner to an influence.  They are not all blessed with my
aptitude for perfectibility."

Victoria responded to this with a sigh.  "Few men are like you,
Virginius.  But there was a time," she added regretfully, "when you
would not have spoken flippantly of my influence in your life."

"I did not mean to speak flippantly, my dear.  Whatever I am to-
day, I may say honestly, is owing to your example more than to
anything else."  While Victoria brightened visibly, he proceeded
with less assurance.  "Only it crossed my mind that it really takes
two to make an influence.  Fortunately, I came to your hand at the
right moment and in exactly the right mood for your experiment.
The very air was thick with idealism in the 'nineties; but the
moral hysteria of the war has degenerated now into a sort of bleak
realism.  Mary Victoria lacks one of the chief accessories to
feminine influence, and that is a benign moisture in the

"I did not think of it as an experiment when we were married,
Virginius, nor did you, I am sure."

"You are right, my dear.  I thought of happiness, not of

"I shall never forget," Victoria murmured in her softest tone,
"what your father said to me on the day of our wedding.  'Thank
God, Victoria, that my son is marrying a true woman; for pure
womanhood is the only thing that stands between man and the

Yes, he recognized the Georgian flavour of that phrase; and now,
with the relentless veracity of the modern mind, he could ask
himself if Marmaduke had been right when he said that hypocrisy was
the only art that had reached its peak in America?  For, like most
professions of faith, his father's panegyrics had been addressed to
an invisible power; and when, as occasionally happened, his wife
interposed, she had assumed the eternal outline and the shimmering
substance of an allegorical virtue.  As a child, the little
Virginius had been deeply impressed by the dramatic interludes in
their family life.  The nights when he had lain awake to listen for
his father's stumbling footsteps had been followed, as naturally as
darkness flows into dawn, by the days when he was obliged to bring
tribal offerings of flowers and fruit to his mother.  From the
moment of his father's return there had floated through the open
door of the nursery (for his mother was one of those women who
civilize the emotion of love but not the maternal instinct) the
dreary monotone of abject apology.  Even at that tender age he had
discovered that one very special branch of sin is able to assume at
will all the transports of religious conversion.  Why was it, for
instance, he had once inquired of his grandmother, that his father
became more devout, and apparently more affectionate, to his mother
whenever he was accused of drinking or loving too freely on
unlawful premises?  "Lip-homage," poohpoohed his grandmother, an
old lady of rock-ribbed constitution, who knew her world.  Yet the
boy had already begun to suspect that this idolatrous lip-homage
recompensed his mother, in a measure at least, for the infidelities
which had become an important part of the ritual.  Though her
forgiveness had seldom failed to wait upon sin, it was in the midst
of these spiritual excesses that she had scattered her snowy
landscapes and strewn her sprays of wild roses over the mirrors and
sofa pillows.  And observing, as he grew older, that art becomes
the vehicle of unhappiness almost as frequently as it becomes the
medium of indecency, he had been prepared for the promptness with
which Marmaduke's thwarted desire for Louisa had oozed through his
paint brush into fantastic forms of the nude.  Well, he was obliged
to admit that the nude was less reprehensible to-day, though it was
certainly redder than it had been in the 'nineties.  Moreover, the
present age, with its liberal views of sin, had softened Mr.
Littlepage's judgment not only of Marmaduke's pictures, but even of
poor Aunt Agatha's past.

With this thought in his mind, he remarked tolerantly, "Did you
notice that this young man was particularly courteous to Aunt

Yes, Victoria had observed it, and she was of the opinion that such
politeness spoke well for their son-in-law.  "So few young men pay
any attention to old ladies," she said.  "That is one nice thing
about Duncan.  No wonder he is poor Aunt Agatha's favourite."

Mr. Littlepage pondered this idea.  "Am I mistaken or is Aunt
Agatha really beginning to take a new interest in life?"

Victoria nodded.  "The war did a great deal for her, Virginius,"
she answered in a sympathetic tone; for her kind heart had never
been reconciled to the harshness with which the canon of refined
conduct had dealt with poor Aunt Agatha.  Such measures, she had
been told as a bride, were necessary to safeguard divine
institutions and preserve the jewel of chastity from the roving
instincts of man; but this explanation, though she accepted it with
docility, seemed to her far from convincing.  Thirty-one years ago,
when she first learned of the fate of poor Aunt Agatha, she had had
her doubts in the matter; and since then, especially as loose
conduct became more general and less conspicuous, her doubts had
multiplied and finally settled into an incurable suspicion of the
Victorian ideal.  "She has been a different woman," she added,
"ever since she was needed to make pyjamas."

"I am glad of that," Mr. Littlepage responded, and he continued
after a pause, "I have always felt that the world was a little too
hard upon poor Aunt Agatha.  After all, she was very young, and I
remember that my grandmother never concurred in the opinion that
she was of an abnormal nature."

"But the doctors all thought so.  Your mother told me, I remember,
that the doctors said she was one of those unfortunate women who
needed a man in her life.  They never left her alone with a man
after that or let her go out by herself.  What I always thought,
though of course I could not say so aloud, was that it was simply a
disastrous passion for Colonel Bletheram.  I have never," she
added, with indignation, "been able to shake hands with old Colonel
Bletheram, though he has had three wives since he ruined poor Aunt

Mr. Littlepage flushed darkly.  "Yes, it was all very sad, and I
admire you for your spirit.  If other women were like you, poor
Aunt Agatha's life might have been different.  But everyone at the
time appeared to think that it was noble of her to shield her
seducer.  They seemed to feel that she was merely obeying some
unwritten etiquette of seduction, and Aunt Agatha had always been a
model of deportment.  It is little short of astonishing the way
manners and even morals can alter."

Injustice had never failed to ruffle the limpid shallows of
Victoria's mind; and her long resentment had at last convinced
Virginius that chivalry had fallen short in this particular
instance.  To be sure, his mother and his grandmother, conforming
to the arrested psychology of tradition, had accepted the belief
that nature assigned the passion, as well as the pleasure, of love
to the masculine sex.  In his childhood no one, not even his
grandmother, had ever disputed this theory; and the whole feminine
world of the 'seventies had connived at the practice of explaining
away a moral infirmity.  By some subtle process, whenever the
desperate passion of love visited the curving bosom of a Southern
lady, desire was transformed into a mental affliction.  How many
cheerful family physicians of the old school, Mr. Littlepage now
wondered, had encouraged this moral, if melancholy, hypothesis?
How inevitably the pressure of tradition had changed Aunt Agatha
from a spirited girl into an elderly Magdalen, as vague and
unsubstantial as legend.  "It was a cruel age, but all ages are
cruel," he meditated, "and all ages call their own cruelties
civilization.  The singular part of it was that women embraced
their martyrdom more firmly even than men inflicted it."

Yes, it was useless to deny that poor Aunt Agatha had fallen like a
perfect lady.  No persuasion, no threats, not even the sinister one
of an asylum, had compelled her to divulge the name of her seducer.
Only inference and analogy had attributed her ruin to dashing
Colonel Bletheram, who had imprudently set an example of gallantry.
While poor Aunt Agatha immured herself for more than forty years in
a third-story back bedroom, and flitted down, like a wistful
apparition, to family meals when there were no important guests,
Colonel Bletheram had lost three faithful wives, but never missed a
Christmas cotillion.

"She seems to be taking a great deal of interest in moving
pictures," Mr. Littlepage remarked aloud.

"Aunt Agatha?  Yes, she never misses a new one.  Moving pictures
and banana sundaes are her only pleasures in life.  I encourage the
pictures; but I am very much afraid she will ruin her digestion
with those dreadful mixtures.  It seems a pity, too, that she
always selects films with the most sensational titles.  To-day it
is 'Passion in the Purple' and yesterday it was 'A Scarlet Sin.'  I
wouldn't for the world say anything to dampen her spirit; but I
sometimes think it would be more dignified if she could interest
herself in a charity.  I tried to make her do a little work for our
refuge; but she appears to have taken a dislike to those
unfortunate girls."

Victoria, who was endowed with a gentle aptitude for uplifting, had
been for years the president of the Home for Unfortunates (named
after the "Bridge of Sighs" by her mother-in-law, who was one of
the founders).  Assisted by the indefatigable Louisa and a few
earnest philanthropists, she spent her Thursday and Saturday
afternoons patiently extracting the honey from wingless daughters
of joy.  Though her enthusiasm for this charity, and indeed for all
charities, had decreased since her severe illness last winter, she
still conformed punctiliously to her old moral observances.
Virginius, who had noticed her waning fervour, asked himself now if
Victoria could really have become as indifferent to the higher life
as she appeared?  Some imponderable force (he could only feel, he
could not define, the loss) was slowly diminishing.  It is true
that she used the same forms, she employed the same platitudes; but
the sound of them reminded him of husks in which the seeds were
beginning to rattle.  There was comfort, however, in the thought
that her sweetness of nature was still inexhaustible.  After all,
he had been disappointed in her temperament, not in her character,
and as nineteenth-century moralists had conclusively proved, the
forces of character are more than a match for the follies of

"Well, you can hardly blame her, my dear, if, after her experience,
she prefers a sensation to a reform.  At her age, I suppose, she is
safe from demoralization."

"I am glad you feel that way, Virginius.  Of course, I understand
poor Aunt Agatha's recoil, but Louisa seemed to think that people
may criticize."  As her gentle voice trailed into silence, it
occurred to him that her secret wisdom, though still patient and
uncomplaining, had grown a little weary from contending with
indestructible facts.

"Criticize?  Good God!" he exclaimed resentfully.  "Do you think by
this time that she could feel any criticism more immaterial than a
brick?"  Then, dismissing the subject with a gesture of disgust, he
remarked abruptly, "I am sorry that Mary Victoria married a man she
feels obliged to make over."

Victoria assented.  "But she is so much better prepared than most
women to bring out the best in a man."

"That, my dear, is what makes me anxious.  I am not sure that her
experience in the Balkans has been the safest preparation for
marriage.  Nothing, not even moonshine, goes to the head quicker
than saving democracy with other people's money.  I am not sure
that the war didn't turn as many heads as it crippled heels.
However, to be practical, I do not envy Mary Victoria the job she
has on her hands.  I've more than an inkling of trouble ahead, and,
unless I am mistaken, this young Martin will bear a good deal of

"Have you heard anything else, Virginius, to his discredit?"

"It isn't what I've heard, my dear; it is what I know.  What does
Mary Victoria say?"

"Very little.  She seems radiantly happy, and I believe she fell in
love with him because she feels that she saved his life."

"I remember now that young Welding used that same expression.  What
do they mean when they say she saved his life?"

"Didn't he tell you?"

"Too vaguely for me to understand what it is all about.  Wasn't he
included in her general scheme of salvation?"

"Please try not to be flippant, Virginius."

"I was never less flippant, Victoria.  Nor more disgusted.  Then
his, I gather, was a special act of redemption."

"Please, Virginius--if you will not interrupt.  It seems he had a
complete nervous collapse after he found that his work was a
failure.  Of course, Mary Victoria would not wish us to speak of
it, except to Louisa, but he was in a state of acute melancholia,
and on the verge of suicide when she came into his life.  That is
why he calls her his good angel.  I gather that she helped him in
every way, even financially, until he was on his feet and out of
the hospital.  Then she got him this position as secretary in her
orphanage; and she says that he did very well.  He has quite a gift
for writing, you know."

Mr. Littlepage frowned.  "I've warned him not to build his hopes on
that kind of thing.  He'd better look for a practical job."  The
more he heard of Mary Victoria's husband, Virginius decided, the
less he admired him.  Moreover, he was beginning to suspect that in
love at least Martin Welding was disposed to be what philosophers
have called a pluralist; and from pluralism in love he recoiled
almost as sharply as from polytheism in religion.

"Mary Victoria feels that very strongly.  I have promised her to
ask Daniel if he will take him into the bank.  Martin, I gather
from what she said, wished to stay in Paris and do his writing
where living is cheaper and more interesting; but after they were
married Mary Victoria felt it was her duty to return to America.
Her chief interest now, after Martin, of course, is the outlawing
of war--"

"Well, considering all she owes to the last one--"

"Owes to it, dear?"

"I mean not only a husband, for he seems to me to be a
featherweight in the scale, but all the extravagance and excitement
she and so many other women were able to indulge in."

Victoria stared at him.  "I sometimes wonder, Virginius, where you
get your ideas.  I am sure there is nothing in your blood to make
you a cynic.  Nobody could have had higher ideals than your
father," she continued wearily, as if she were repeating a ritual,
"or a more child-like faith in religion.  In the last conversation
I had with him, he told me that he was securely anchored to every
letter in the Bible.  If he began to doubt that the fish swallowed
Jonah, he said, it would make him an infidel."

Mr. Littlepage remembered the words; and he recalled also that,
with the natural agility so often displayed by the male in
appealing from example to precept, his father had seldom failed to
invoke the ancestral creed in a moral emergency.  "Even if he has
lived loosely," Virginius had once overheard his mother remark by
way of apology, "it is a comfort to feel that Marmaduke has never
lost his hold on the truths of religion."

"Well, life must have been easier for a believing generation," he
replied, with a levity that astonished him.  "It is fortunate that
my dear old father passed away while the world was standing still
in its orbit.  The gift of self-deception has become a lost art."

"Yes, I suppose faith is more difficult than it used to be,"
Victoria sighed, whether in regret or relief it was impossible to
tell from her voice.  "That is why Mary Victoria thinks it is
woman's mission to hand on the torch."

"The torch?  Have they begun already to preach female incendiarism?"

"She means, of course, the belief in the ideal.  I suppose it is
natural for her to feel, after the inspiration she was in the Red
Cross, that there is no end to her influence for good.  She is so
confident that it is difficult not to catch fire, or at least
warmth, from her earnestness.  She takes everything, even that old
entanglement of Martin's, in the most forgiving and beautiful

"Entanglement?"  There was the faintest quiver of fear in the word.

"Surely, Virginius, you know that other woman?"

"Only one?  There may have been a round dozen from all I've heard
of him."  After all, had he destroyed Milly's happiness when he
tried to protect her?  Would it have been better, as well as wiser,
if he had told the complete truth instead of a poetic version of
facts?  "The hardest thing I ever had to do in my life," he
continued indignantly, "is to receive this--this unspeakable cad
into the family."

"Mary Victoria says that she tried with all her power to make him
go back to the other woman."

"Did she go so far, I wonder, as paying for his passage?"

"Virginius, I never knew you to be so bitter.  After all, you were
the one who started her on the search for him."

"Perhaps that is why I am bitter.  I wanted her to find him for

"You never told me," Victoria said gently, "but of course I knew,
and I even tried to warn Mary Victoria against him.  I believe that
she really did try to make him go back after he was well, but by
that time he was head over heels in love with her.  I don't know
exactly what he told her about the affair; but a man in love can
seldom be trusted."

"Well, it seems to me, my dear, that a woman in reform can be
trusted even less.  It is always a blow to discover how little
honour there is in the best feminine motives."

"Oh, Virginius, you don't mean that about Mary Victoria?  It hasn't
been a month since you told me that, even if other women stooped to
deception, you knew that Mary Victoria was the soul of honour."

A sound between a laugh and a groan broke from Mr. Littlepage.  "I
thought that a month ago, which only proves what a fool a father
can be.  Naturally," he added grimly, "I have no intention of
giving my daughter away.  We shall have to stand by her."

"What else in the world could we do?  Of course, I am deeply
distressed that the other woman is the girl we helped through her
trouble.  That makes it more painful for you and far more
humiliating for Mary Victoria.  But, after all, we must think first
of our child."

"That is human, no doubt, but it seems to me grossly unfair."

"I can understand how you feel, dear.  It is harder on you than it
is on anyone else.  For it isn't as if you had a choice in the

"Do you honestly think that I haven't?"

"Why, how could you have, Virginius?  Are there any circumstances
on earth that would justify our spoiling Mary Victoria's

"No, I dare say you're right.  But if Mary Victoria has found the
slightest excuse for herself, I should like to hear what it is."

For a moment Victoria pondered her answer.  Then, in her softest
voice, she replied slowly, "She said that she could tell from the
very beginning that the other girl had made the wrong sort of
appeal to him.  Then, when Mary Victoria got to know him better,
and I suppose after they had fallen a little in love, she
discovered that his mother had died when he was a baby and he had
never come under the influence of a really good woman.  Later on,
after she had done so much for him, she became convinced that it
was her duty to--to--"

"To perfect him, I suppose--"

"Of course, I agree with you that she might not have felt the
necessity had he been less attractive.  Didn't you find him

"Not disturbingly so, but then, you see, I am neither an act of God
nor an instrument of salvation."

"There are times, Virginius, when you sound almost like Marmaduke."

"I am sorry.  There are few Southern gentlemen I should not prefer
to resemble."

"I don't mean in behaviour.  No two men in the world could be more
unlike in behaviour."  She hesitated an instant, and then finished
magnanimously, "I can never be thankful enough that I married a man
who did not have that other side to his nature."

"I appreciate that, my dear, and now, if you are ready for bed, I
will open the window."

Slipping into his dressing-gown, and tying the cord securely in the
middle of his rotund waist, he stood watching Victoria, with mild
astonishment, while she stepped out of her felt slippers, placed
her lavender flannel wrapper at the foot of the bed, and stretched
her unconfined body, in the nainsook night-gown, between the fleecy
blankets and embroidered sheets.  Was it for this, echoed a
derisive voice in the hollowness of his mind, that the arboreal
imagination of man had climbed down from the feathery tree-tops?

Turning away, he crossed the grey velvet carpet, and after raising
the window, leaned out into the silence that had fallen between a
retreating and an advancing storm.  Overhead, beneath a closed sky,
there was the fluttering of shredded mist; but toward the south and
west a low range of clouds shone silver-black beneath the pale
lustre of moonlight.  Poised between the eternal illusions of time
and space, the world appeared to hang suspended in the midst of an
encompassing desolation.  And out of this desolation it seemed to
him that a burden of futility poured like a shower of ashes into
his soul.  "What is the meaning of it all?" he asked himself
despondently.  "Where is it leading?  What else is left in life
after you have had happiness?"

Then, suddenly, as if in answer to his meaningless question, a
single fiery star shone in Mrs. Dalrymple's window on the opposite
corner.  "So she is still there," he thought, with scarcely a
flicker of longing.  "I wonder if she is happy at last."


The next afternoon Mr. Littlepage, who disliked walking as much as
other successful men, picked his way in the direction of Juniper
Hill, where his brother Marmaduke occupied Mrs. Burden's third
floor.  Not only had walking appeared to him, on this occasion at
least, the only means of avoiding helpful advice; but he was moved
by the suspicion that persons of dubious reputation, such as
Marmaduke and Milly Burden, were in the habit of putting a correct
value upon privacy.  Though he doubted the wisdom of seeing Milly
so soon after Mary Victoria's triumphant return, it occurred to him
that Marmaduke, from his long experience with women who were
conspicuous for kind hearts rather than for character, might be the
messenger appointed by destiny to break the news of Martin's
desertion.  After all, the sooner she relinquished the hope of him,
the happier Milly would be in the present and the more useful, no
doubt, she would become in the future.

Threading his way through noisy streams of children, he passed rows
of dilapidated houses, until at last the odours of boiled cabbage
and decaying fruits were dispelled by the lighter air of the river,
and the street emerged upon the brow of a terraced hill, which
presided over an ochre-coloured canal, a group of empty
smokestacks, and the smothered fires of the sunset.  Farther away
the sad-looking hill was enlivened by a bleached plot of grass, a
fantastic iron fountain, protected alike from man and beast by a
green railing and a scattered row of inhospitable benches.  On the
benches a few solitary old men were patiently waiting for
happiness; and where the street came to an abrupt end over the
gloomy canal, Mrs. Burden's house was perched as insecurely as the
forsaken nest of a hawk.  It was an endless source of mortification
to Mr. Littlepage that his elder brother, the head of the house
since the death from octogenarian excesses of his uncle Powhatan,
should choose to present the appearance, when he had by no means
reached the condition, of beggarly circumstances.  Virginius had
reasoned earnestly and fruitlessly upon the subject; but then, as
he reflected despondently, all his arguments with Marmaduke were as
fruitless as they were earnest.  For a few weeks after his return
to America, Marmaduke had taken temporary shelter with Virginius
and Victoria; and on both sides of the family this experiment had
ended in one of those complete disillusionments which, as the
refugee jocosely observed, "can be faced only by turning your back
on them."  Victoria, who admired art rather than artists, was
disappointed to find that Marmaduke was a futurist in morals.  Even
this, trained as she was in the tradition of perfect behaviour, she
might have been able less to excuse as a fault than to overlook as
a fact; but no amount of practice in evading reality could blind
her to the proof that he was far from spotless in his attire.  It
is true that a wooden leg excused, she felt, a measure of
carelessness.  Her sympathetic heart had almost accepted this
substitute as a mute plea for indulgence, when she was saddened
again by the discovery that Marmaduke, even without a leg, was too
sure of his ancestors to be particular about his acquaintances.
The struggle between the habit of refinement and the habit of not
having habits continued to wear on Victoria's nerves without
ruffling her sweetness of temper.  She was attached to Marmaduke;
she was sympathetic; she was even indulgent; but she could not shut
her eyes to the unfortunate truth that he was bad for the children.
Marmaduke, on the contrary, who was attached to nobody, respected,
and within reason, as he was careful to explain, admired Victoria.
"The institution of marriage was invented for her," he had
remarked, "and you can't blame her for defending it against the
invincible adversary.  Some day, as even Victoria knows, her
defences will fall, and then what will become of her?  But I'll say
this for your wife," he had concluded, with a dash of enthusiasm in
his voice, "there is less humbug in her morality than in most.  She
is the only woman I know who isn't two-thirds sham, and I haven't
forgotten Louisa."

At the end of the visit an armed truce was established; and an
armed truce, Mr. Littlepage conceded, is more successful in
maintaining a balance of power than in promoting tribal
festivities.  It was impossible to deny that Victoria had emerged
from the conflict with flying colours; but when Virginius had
attempted to deal logically with Marmaduke, he soon perceived that
the head of the family displayed as little respect for logic as he
had shown for legitimate ties.  In one of his vagabond fancies
(which Victoria had found more disconcerting than temper) Marmaduke
had shaken civilization and regular hours from his shoulders, and
had entrenched his disreputable habits in the attic on Juniper
Hill.  "How can there be any civilization without regular hours?"
Victoria had inquired reasonably.  "He eats only when he is hungry,
and then without laying a cloth."  Virginius, who agreed with
Victoria, and felt that the order of the universe depended upon
punctuality, had decided that a situation which contained a single
artist and all the conventions was crowded with difficulties.  Yet,
in the very hour of his defeat, while he concurred in Victoria's
opinion that "you can't take art very seriously when it doesn't
bring you a living," he was unhappily aware that the buccaneer in
his blood was allied with his brother.

This early November afternoon, while he stepped briskly over the
mat of coloured leaves on the hill, no observer would have
suspected that a roving buccaneer was hidden beneath the cloak of
his correct Sabbath attire.  With his handsome, though slightly
pompous, features, which wore the look of heroic complacency that
makes all Southern gentlemen resemble one another in the eyes of a
stranger, he looked, as indeed he was, except for his vagabond
impulses, a perfect example of what money can do when it has good
material to work upon.  But in his perturbed mind he was thinking,
"I wonder if anything can be wrong with me?  Is it only that the
war has made all the rest of life seem distorted and out of
proportion?  Or can it be that my liver is going against me?"  For
he belonged to that normal masculine breed whose emotions are
firmly seated not in the soul, but in the liver.

He had quickened his pace to avoid a perambulator pushed by an
inattentive negro nurse, when the door of the house he was passing
opened and shut, and a woman in a red hat and a mole-skin coat
descended the littered steps to the gate.  As her luminous brown
eyes swept his face, he came to a sudden stop, and stood waiting.
"How little she has changed!" he thought, while it seemed to him
that a faint drumming vibrated through the depths of his being.
"How little she has changed, and yet there is a difference."  Her
hair was still amber; the colour in her cheeks was still as ripe as
the bloom on a peach; her queenly bosom, beneath the slim lines of
her coat, was still opulent.  At a distance he had thought her as
straight as a pole; but he perceived now, with an admiration the
modern figure never aroused in him, that only the fashion of her
dress, not the perfect curves of the 'nineties, had altered.

"Why, Mrs. Dalrymple!" he exclaimed, and there was a thrill of
pleasure in his voice as he held out his hand.

Before yielding her gloved hand, she hesitated an instant and
looked up inquiringly from beneath darkened lashes.  So the brown
velvet of her gaze had caressed him on that August evening; and
while his nerves quivered like the strings of a harp under
sensitive fingers, he felt for the first time in months, for the
first time in years, that he had not yet outlived the age of
delight.  With her over-ripe but still voluptuous beauty, the
brilliant fairness of her complexion, and the glimmering dusk of
her eyes, she had awakened, however briefly, that old torment of
unsatisfied longing.  He remembered her not only as the woman he
might have loved, but even more poignantly as the woman he might
have possessed.  This, he told himself triumphantly, was the beauty
that had the power to wreck homes and make history.  In its late
autumn season, he felt that Mrs. Dalrymple's charm was sweetened
with a honey which only the full-bodied masculine taste of the
'nineties had known how to appreciate.

"What a fool I was!" he thought bitterly, so far had he travelled
from the moral idealism of the nineteenth century.  Well, in spite
of moral idealism, men had known how to enjoy life in the long ages
when women were weaker and whisky was Bourbon.

"You!" Mrs. Dalrymple breathed forgivingly; and the look in her
deep dark eyes was as challenging, he told himself, as champagne to
a prohibitionist.  From a provincial and pretty widow, with a soft
heart and a brittle character, she had been transformed by Europe
and her war record into a bright, hard woman of the world, who had
exchanged her birthright of modesty for a profitable understanding
of men.  That double-edged blessing for a Southern lady, an ardent
thirst for life and capacity for enjoyment, had not, he suspected
from her scarlet mouth and hearty manner, diminished.  Her laugh
was as kind and as exciting as ever; the rich curves of her cheek
and lips were as tempting; and though her figure was too womanly
for the scant fashions of the present, Mr. Littlepage had matured
in an era when restrained abundance rather than flatness unconfined
appealed to the robust instincts of man.

"She is nearly fifty, and almost as handsome as ever," he decided.
"Well, that is what Europe and widowhood can do for a woman."

Mrs. Dalrymple, who had been blessed with sex attraction, but would
have preferred, as she grew older, a moderate amount of card sense
or even a strong religious belief, could have enlightened him still
further on the subjects of Europe and widowhood.  Though he would
have been among the last to suspect the truth, it is literal,
if not poetic, to describe her as the helpless victim of
circumstances.  Endowed with much energy and little temperament,
she might have remained as virtuous as Louisa had her figure been
less pronounced or the field of woman's activities more varied.
But in the late 'nineties, when she had flourished and fallen, an
immense feminine vitality was confined with the narrow range of a
wasp-waist and the exacting ritual of being a lady.  A deceptive
bosom, which inspired hope in men, and a naturally kind heart,
which hesitated to dispense disappointment, had been, if not the
occasion, at least the original cause, of her frailty.  Never in
her life had she deliberately harmed anyone, not even a woman; and
the wonder grew, as she looked back over the past, that so little
pleasure could have produced so great a catastrophe.  It is true
that when men were deceived by her ripe mouth and rich bosom, her
kind heart had made but a feeble show of resistance; but these
episodes, after they had happened, invariably seemed to her to have
occurred in her sleep.  Few women had profited more by the war.
Even her queenly figure had been subdued to the service of
patriotism; and her renown for easy virtue had yielded, though not
without a struggle, to a reputation for heroic exploits.  Twice, it
was said, she had carried or dragged a wounded soldier from under
fire into safety; once she had saved, or assisted in saving, all
the inmates from a burning field hospital; and three times she had
received foreign decorations for gallantry.  Royalty, undeterred by
her sins, had welcomed her with encouraging requests for both moral
and financial support.  Her picture, taken in the peasant dress of
Berengaria, as she presented an American bank cheque to the queen
of that interesting kingdom, had adorned the Sunday supplements of
the American Press.  In this exhilarating atmosphere, it is little
wonder that coquetry became a means rather than an end to
adventure; or that the pursuit of sex appeared a mistaken, as well
as an uncongenial, vocation.  Even her notorious past, which was
attached, she felt, by the merest thread of an accident, had
crumbled away and scattered like pollen over the fertile soil of
the war zone.  After the Armistice, it is true, there came a vast
emptiness.  In an hour, it seemed to her, the euphemistic Powers of
Europe had made of her life a desert and called it peace.  Not, of
course, that she had wished the war to continue.  Like many other
women, she hated and feared war in general, and worshipped it in
the particular instance; and her kind heart still suffered whenever
she allowed herself to think of the killed and wounded.
Nevertheless, so long as there was a war, and she was as innocent
as a babe in the matter, she thanked her stars, with a clear
conscience, that she had not avoided this historic prelude to
glory.  Never, until she engaged in active combat, had she been
able to understand how the sex that invented battle and murder and
rape could have invented also, without a change of heart
apparently, monogamy and the perfect lady and the Protestant
Episcopal Church.  In the end, since the war left her precisely as
it had found her, with a vacant mind and a well-stored heart, her
inexhaustible vitality was stranded among all the trifling
occupations of peace.  Again she made an honest effort to enjoy the
moderate activities of a sphere in which there seemed to be
increasingly little to do.  If her preparation for life had been
restricted, it appeared that her opportunities for exercise were
even more limited.  It was natural, it was perhaps inevitable, that
she should have drifted back at last to her old happiness-hunting
and moral preserves.  What was left for a fallen lady, she had
demanded almost passionately of the Everlasting Purpose, except the
most ancient vocation?  Though she nourished few illusions, and
none of these dealt with the nature of man, she had not failed to
observe that for a Southern lady in reduced circumstances and with
an impaired reputation, love is the only available means of
increasing an income.  A wealthy marriage, she would have been the
first to admit, was too much to expect.  For, even though men are
indulgent, an ample fortune, she realized, bargains shrewdly for at
least a technical virtue; and toward marriage without an ample
fortune she felt no inclination.  But two marriages and one divorce
for love had taught her, before the war and tributes to the crowned
heads of Europe had depleted her substance, that even widowhood or
the path of virtue may be made easy by a generous allowance.

"Never again!" she had resolved, as she meditated upon the natural
trials of love and the inadequacy of men as lovers.  "I've had more
love than most women, I suppose, and what has it ever done for me
in the past?"  After a pause, in which she summed up the uncertain
rewards of the passion, she had concluded, with that ripe wisdom
which is so often the fruit of imperfect behaviour, "Nothing.
Absolutely nothing that I can show for it.  Nothing that will be
worth a row of pins to me when I am old.  If you're careful, card
sense will stay by you when you need it, and sometimes put money in
your pocket long after you have lost your looks.  But presents,
even if they are set in platinum, go out of fashion."  Then, since
she had been a realist from the beginning, before the bottom
dropped out of idealism, she determined to be guided by prudence
rather than generosity in every love affair that came after fifty.
For it was not, she decided, as if she had ever benefited by what
she dismissed, no doubt inaccurately, as the overrated pleasures of
love.  "Even when I was at my best, and especially when I was at my
best, a love affair was sure to be over and done with just as I was
beginning really to enjoy it."  And it occurred to her, since, like
many philosophers and not a few saints, she had approached the
ascetic point of view by the downward path, that love, in common
with other benefits to be derived from the prudent pleasures of
men, invariably appears either too soon or too late.  How often had
she watched elderly ladies (who were more estimable than tempting)
assemble with eager eyes round the card-table, at the exact moment
when they desired with all their souls to play bridge.  How often,
at such instants, had she sighed to herself:  "If only they
realized what it means to have found a solace that is there when
you need it."  For even this last resource of vacancy had been
denied her by a mind that had never been able to think twice about
anything and a figure that had falsely advertised her as ardent.
"All the same," she was thinking not more than two minutes before
she recognized Mr. Littlepage, "if I had my life to live over
again, I'd know better than to put my main dependence upon love."
Then, while the thought fluttered in her mind as wildly as a
swallow circles in an empty barn, she looked ahead and saw a
conventional male figure approaching.  Instantly, without effort,
without purpose, the glow of amorous challenge shone in her eyes,
and the smile of provocative mystery wavered and vanished and
wavered again on her lips.

"You!" was the only word that escaped her; for experience had
taught her the value of monosyllabic responses.  Though he was not
all that she could have wished, she admitted reluctantly that he
was more perhaps than she had a right to expect.  After all, though
she had finished with love, no wise and prudent woman, she knew, is
ever entirely finished with lovers.

"It has been very long," he said pensively, "since you went away."

"Almost twelve years," she answered, with a sigh that she tried to
make cheerful, or at least not discouraging.  For after fifty, as
she reminded herself for the hundredth time, few women can afford
to be depressing, and none can afford to be particular.  "I was in
Europe when the war came, and I simply stayed on.  I helped to open
one of the first hospitals in France."

"Yes, I heard of it.  In fact, I sent you a contribution.  My
daughter heard of you everywhere, even in the Balkans.  She wrote
us that your war record was wonderful."

"I suppose everything seemed wonderful while the war lasted."  How
clear her eyes were, how bright and gay her smile for the possessor
of a lost or even an imperfectly restored character!  But he
remembered now that she had always left a more vivid impression
than anyone else, that her colour and gaiety had often rushed into
his memory like a running fire in a November landscape.

"Yes, to those of us who stayed at home you appeared to have
cornered all the adventure."

"And you never came over?"

"No, it is the greatest regret of my life.  Wars for me have always
come at the wrong age.  I've either had to wave flags or roll

"Well, there isn't much fun in that."  Was there the faintest tinge
of mirth in her voice?  "I've sometimes thought that the worst
thing about the war was that so many of us who were not hurt really
enjoyed it.  When it was over, we had nothing to fall back on but
bottomless futility.  I didn't wish it to go on, of course," she
added, with a shudder, and wondered if she were not becoming too
serious, "but I missed the waiting for horrors when it was over.
In the last five years or so I have had nothing to do but try to
put time into a kind of twilight sleep."  Then the look of anxious
wonder was driven from her eyes by a sparkling infusion of
coquetry.  "I wasn't that way twelve years ago--but you must have

A swift pulsation quivered and died in some elemental darkness.
"No, I haven't forgotten.  But why did you go away?"  What a fool,
what an egregious fool he had been twelve years ago, when she was
in the flower of her beauty, and that flower might have been his
for the plucking!

"I went away," she answered slowly, "because I needed to learn
about life."

"About life?"

"About life and love."  Was she laughing at him?  Was she deriding
his former resistance?  Or was she seriously leading him on?
Twenty, even ten years ago, he would not have hesitated over the
answer.  But at that age he had still his ten, he had still his
twenty years of vigour ahead of him.  On this November afternoon it
seemed to him that his retreating youth wore the aspect less of a
fugitive season than of a perennial estate.

"I thought," he said, "that you knew all there was to be known
about love."  Though he tried to borrow her lightness of touch, he
was aware that a fatuous expression was spreading like melted wax
over his features.

She shook her head, and her lashes drooped while a pensive note
crept into her caressing voice.  "No, there was one thing I had
never learned.  I had never learned why there is so little kindness
in love."

He looked at her in surprise.  "Are you sure there is little?"

"I am seventy times sure.  I have had love seventy times, but not
once have I had loving-kindness."  Her eyes softened into pathos,
and he asked himself, with a stab of memory, if she had suffered
all these years because he had been true to Victoria?  Was it
within the bounds of probability that Mrs. Dalrymple (who was still
accessible) had cared for him more deeply than he had ever

"Perhaps you did not look for it," he urged gently.  "If you had
looked for it, you might have found it."

She shook her head, and it seemed to him that her dark eyes lost
their challenge and were drowned in a plaintive sadness.  "All my
life I have looked for it.  It may be that I needed it too much
ever to find it.  I sometimes think that loving-kindness, like
chivalry, is saved for the women who do not need it."

For an instant, so vehement was his response to her voice and her
wistful smile, it seemed to him that he was in peril of losing not
only his heart, but (and this was more important to his legal mind)
his judgment as well.  "Surely you have forgotten," he answered
tenderly, "surely you have forgotten that I gave you kindness once
when you needed it."

A change passed over her face, as if it were suddenly enkindled by
the dying flare of the sunset.  "You gave me kindness, but not
love," she breathed so softly that her voice rather than her words
invaded his senses.

A flush rose to his cheek, and while his features burned with
embarrassment--or was it pleasure?--he exclaimed as impulsively as
if time had reversed its process, and they were standing again
beneath those Bacchic garlands, "Then you never knew!  You never
suspected!"  In that quivering light her face swam before him, and
he wondered, with an inward tremor, if there were tears in the
unfathomable dusk of her eyes.

"Ah, I suffered too much to suspect anything!"

While the words still floated toward him, she turned away and
walked swiftly from the brow of the hill into the approaching
shadows of twilight.  For an instant, with a sensation of
dizziness, he looked after her.  Then, casting an involuntary
glance over his shoulder, he straightened his figure and passed on
with a confident stride.  It was true that she was still
accessible.  It was true also that, after twelve unprofitable
years, though she was no longer young, all the drab world had come
to life again when he looked at her.  Nothing, he realized now, had
ever assuaged the old torment of longing.  Nothing had ever moved
him so deeply as that haunting promise of joy deferred but not
defeated which she exhaled like a perfume.  "I suppose I've always
wanted her," he thought, "even when I was not thinking about her.
The trouble with her is that she makes all other women, even
younger and prettier women, appear only half animate."  Yesterday
he had believed that passion ended with youth, or lingered on in
middle age as an antiquated survival.  Now, he told himself,
nothing mattered, least of all the fugitive moods of the young.
Every age, he had discovered, has its own sphere of influence.
Every age (there was comfort in this reflection) has its own
peculiar ardours and indiscretions.  After all, he was only fifty-
seven, and at fifty-seven a man is still young enough to be tempted
and to yield to temptation.


He opened Mrs. Burden's creaking gate, passed up the walk of sunken
flag-stones, and entered the hall, which was pervaded by a
yellowish dusk and the smell of boiled cabbage.  At the foot of the
fine old staircase Milly Burden was standing, and it seemed to him
that the light had gone out of her face and left it drained of
expectancy.  "She is wasted as if from a mortal illness," he
thought, with a throb of compassion.  "This is what happens to
women who have neither religion nor the sense of duty to fall back
upon.  It isn't only love she has lost.  It is everything.
Everything," he amended presently, "except the right to live her
own life."  And it occurred to him, while he enfolded her hands in
his grasp, that the right to live her own life was a frail support
compared to a womanly trust in Omnipotence.  Though he was by no
means unacquainted with grief, and thirty years of the law had
prepared him for the usual wages of sin, he told himself sadly that
he had never seen a look of deeper despair.  Other women had lost
their lovers; other women had been betrayed and abandoned; but
these other women had appeared always to have something left over,
if it was nothing more than redemption.  Poor Aunt Agatha, who had
suffered as much as a woman could, had clung firmly, though
submissively, not only to her simple trust in the Protestant
Episcopal Church, but even to her maidenly faith in men.  For it
was impossible to deny that poor Aunt Agatha had observed the
superstitions as thoroughly as she had discarded the moral
principle of the Victorian age.  Ruined, she had still trusted.
Her betrayal, which had broken her heart, spoiled her life, and
irretrievably impaired her value, had failed apparently to ruffle
the surface of her settled convictions.  And there was Mrs.
Dalrymple, he reminded himself, who had become a romantic rather
than an intellectual iconoclast.  In spite of her immodest
activities, she was as little inclined to dispute the merit of the
double standard as poor Aunt Agatha was to question the authority
of Saint Paul's views upon feminine deportment.  Their suffering,
he realized, had been alleviated by reverence for the powers that
afflicted them.  But with Milly, and perhaps with others of her
refractory generation, every pious support had been already
demolished.  What was left to her, he inquired, with merciless
logic, after she had rejected alike the moral law and the expert
testimony of experience?

"I see you have heard, my dear," he began gently, while he turned
with her into the dusty living-room, which was filled with the last
glimmer of daylight.

"Yes, I've heard.  Your brother told me.  He saw it in the paper,
and he told me.  He told me."

"Don't, my child, don't," Mr. Littlepage pleaded.  He had been
prepared for tears.  He had been prepared for anything, he felt,
except for eyes in which tears had frozen to ice.

"You must pluck up your courage, Milly.  A cad like that isn't
worth your little finger."

"I know," she breathed angrily.  "You can't tell me anything worse
than I know already.  But that doesn't give me back my life.  That
doesn't give me back all the love I wasted."  For an instant he
thought that her frozen surface had broken and that she would melt
into tears.  Then, with a gesture of repudiation, she laughed again
in the same toneless voice.  "But I am not going to talk about it.
Not even to you am I going to talk about it."

"That is the best way.  You know, whatever happens, I am your

She smiled without a trace of emotion.  "Nothing will happen now.
I've felt all I can feel."

"I wish I could help you."

"There isn't any help.  There isn't anything but hollowness."

"Not now perhaps, but there will be later.  You are too young for
happiness to be over.  One mistake doesn't seem so important to-
day, I suppose, as it seemed before.  We may build a better life on
our regrets."

Her laugh stabbed his heart.  "Oh, I haven't any regrets, not what
you would call regrets.  I had a right to my life, and if I spoiled
it, that is my affair.  Nobody else had anything in the world to do
with my life.  Nobody else, not you, not mother, not Martin.
Nobody else."

The air, which had seemed so stale and lifeless when he entered,
was charged now with vitality, with passion, and with an emotion,
so vehement, so despairing, that it could be only anguish.  Her
face was as expressionless as a mask; but beneath its waxen
immobility, he felt, there was the frozen isolation of youth that
believed nothing.  Anything, he told himself, even Christian
forgiveness, was better than this.  Though he had been exasperated
as a child by poor Aunt Agatha's wronged but unresentful attitude,
he realized now that there was much to be said for a code of
manners so influential that its authority was exerted over the
frail and the fallen.  So unstable, indeed, are contemporary
verdicts that within the last five years Aunt Agatha had shown
signs of becoming more of an ornament than a disgrace to genealogy.
Having risen poetically to the test of sentimental tradition, she
was pointed out by the younger generation as a classic example of
antique betrayal.  Well, no doubt there was an argument, if he
could find it, in favour of the new freedom; and society was
probably safer, though men were less so, since seducers had ceased
to be anonymous and seductions had ceased to be private.  According
to ancient ritual the true woman in dishonour had preserved her
guilty secret to her grave, except, of course, on the stage, where
she was required, by public scruples and the exigencies of the
drama, to babble about her past.  Today, or so it appeared to him,
all that had changed; yet love, in its ecstasies, its cruelties,
and its contradictions, had not altered.  Love was still the
creator and the devourer of life.

Suddenly he became aware that Milly was speaking in a tone of
passionate anger--or was it passionate agony?  "I gave everything I
had.  I waited.  Through all those horrible years, I waited--"

"Yet you never told him?"

"It was for his sake.  I knew he was unhappy--and, if I had, what
could he have done?  But I thought he loved me.  Oh, I thought he
loved me!"  She flung out her arm in despair, while it seemed to
Mr. Littlepage that the dusk was alive with her sobbing.  The
firelight had died down, but a single thin blue flame wavered and
sank and wavered again in a flickering pattern.  By this desolate
light her face and even her hands looked as pallid and insubstantial
as mist.

"We've agreed not to talk of it, Milly," he said tenderly.  "The
less we talk of it, the easier it will be for you to get over it."

"Oh, I know, I know."  There was a buried sound in her voice, as if
her sobs had turned to lumps of earth in her throat.  "I am not
going to talk of it."

"In a little while you will be able to put it out of your mind."

"Yes, I will put it out of my mind.  In a little while I will put
it out of my mind.  Everything but the hatred.  I shall never get
over the hatred--"

"But that is the worst part of it all.  Can't you see that as long
as you nurse hatred in your heart, you haven't got over it?"

"Yes, but I can't help hating.  Hating is something you can't help
any more than you can help loving.  Did you ever hate anybody?  Did
you ever hate so bitterly that you wanted to kill?"

"My dear, my dear . . ."  No, he had never in his life hated; nor,
for the matter of that, had he indulged in any other vehement
emotion.  To be sure, he had been in love more than once; but when
he looked back now it seemed to him that his love had been woven of
sentiment rather than passion.  In every case, even in his brief
infatuation for Mrs. Dalrymple, he had been able to wave a
valedictory blessing after his departed romance.  And if violence
was incompatible with the character of a Virginia gentleman, how
much more repugnant must it appear to the ideal of pure womanhood.
In the mannerly past, as Mr. Littlepage reminded himself, even
womanhood that had ceased to be pure turned naturally to a drooping
melancholia instead of to the more active homicidal derangements.
"You must not say such things.  You must not allow them even to
enter your mind," he urged, with genuine distress.

"If you have never hated anybody, you don't know what it means,"
Milly replied, without tears, but in a voice that was still
eloquent with passion.

"How can you hate anyone you've loved so deeply, my child?"

"How could I hate him if I hadn't loved him?" she demanded.  Yes,
it was impossible for a logical mind to understand women, Mr.
Littlepage mused despondently, and he asked himself a moment later
how the Almighty could have ever expected men and women together to
make the earth civilized?

"Well, we must forget all that, Milly," he said presently.
"Remember you have promised me not to talk about it.  No matter how
bad things may be, it doesn't make them any worse to keep hoping
for the best."

"There isn't any best."

"My dear, there is always a best," he answered; for this was the
way they had drilled cheerfulness into the young in the nineteenth

"Then I don't want the best.  I want happiness.  I have a right to
be happy."

A right to be happy!  How far, indeed, had they travelled since
poor Aunt Agatha's fall?  Neither Aunt Agatha nor Mrs. Dalrymple
had ever dared to advance the bold, modern theory of "a right to
happiness."  In the nineteenth century, and indeed before and after
the nineteenth century, human nature, particularly feminine human
nature, had possessed no rights, only duties.  Vividly Mr.
Littlepage recalled a discussion one dreary Sunday afternoon, when
his father, feeling more Victorian than Georgian at the moment, had
stoutly denied the moral right to resist eternal damnation so long
as that robust doctrine contributed to the greater glory of God.
Well, moral right had triumphed to-day over even more inflexible
doctrines.  Duty, when it survived at all in the mind of the young,
had revolved into an alarming centrifugal force.  Nobody, not even
the most unbridled philanthropist, not even Louisa Goddard or Mary
Victoria, spoke, except in moments of heated discussion, of his own
private duty.  Always, when this antiquated term was used, it
referred either to the public duty of others or to some paternal
activity of the Republic.  In Mary Victoria's letters, though the
word "duty" occurred as rhythmically and almost as inaccurately as
it occurs in the beginning of a war or at the end of a love affair,
it was used less in the feminine sense of the thing that one
preferred not to do than as the more dignified masculine synonym
for the easiest way.  Well, if women had at last usurped the
ancient prerogative of man, who, Mr. Littlepage inquired of his
soul, was in a position to oppose them with safety?

"You must remember, my child, that happiness is not a right, but a
blessing," he said, after an anxious pause.

"Is it?  Then I've a right to a blessing."

"Your tone hurts me, Milly.  Don't let this one mistake make you
bitter and hard."

She laughed with mirthless derision.  "Oh, I want to be hard.  I
want to be hard and bitter."

"Don't, my dear.  That doesn't sound like you.  It doesn't sound--"
His reactionary tongue (for, as most sermons and all politics
prove, the tongue is a reactionary member and often trips up
advanced opinions) was about to supply the word "womanly."
Fortunately, however, experience rather than judgment warned him
that this epithet, though still respectable, had ceased to be
flattering.  While he tried in vain to think of something to add,
shreds of Louisa Goddard's lectures floated loosely about in his
mind; but, he dismissed these wisps of research as unimportant,
except to those who no longer needed conversion.

"Should you like to go away, Milly?" he asked abruptly, for this
seemed to him the most promising suggestion that he could make.
"Perhaps a change of scene would make it easier for you to put this
unworthy object out of your thoughts."

She shook her head.  "Not now.  Not until I've fought it out on the
spot.  There's only one thing that would make it easier," she
continued quietly, "and that is a vacation from mother."

"Well, we might arrange that."  He caught hopefully at the plan.
"Let me send her to Florida for the winter."

"She wouldn't go.  Her duty isn't in Florida, and nothing but a
wedge could separate her from her duty.  The worst of it is that I
am her duty--"

"Suppose I talk to her?"

"You might as well argue with the weather."

He sighed.  "Well, my dear, if there's any way I can help you, you
know I'm only too willing."

"Yes, I know."  Her voice was as unresponsive as her expression.
Gratitude, like love, appeared to have died in her.  "We've
forgotten that we were not going to talk about it."

"After this, we'll remember.  Now, if there's nothing I can do for
you, I'll go up to the studio.  But remember that I am eager to
help you in any possible way.  You know I shall always feel that I
have been to blame."

As she followed him to the door, the gas-jet in the hall threw an
unsteady light on her features, and he told himself that there was
a vein of iron beneath her bloom.  The contour of her face had
settled into a look of defiant composure, and her blue eyes, which
he had once compared to April flowers, were now as hard and gem-
like as lapis lazuli.  "Her best days are over," he thought
regretfully, "and she would have made some man a wonderful wife."

"You mean that you asked your daughter to find him?" she said in so
low a voice that he was obliged to bend his ear before he could
distinguish the words.

"If I had not," he answered slowly, "they would never have met."

"And this would not have happened."

"And this would not have happened."  Her eyes were wide open,
staring up at the light, and he was so close to her that it seemed
to him he could see tiny sparks in the blackness of the pupils.
"But she knew that he was my lover."

"Yes, she knew, but she couldn't have understood.  I blame myself.
I blame myself bitterly."

"Oh, she understood!  But women are like that."

A shadow stole over the flame in her eyes, and this shadow passed
into Mr. Littlepage's face while he watched her.  "Mary Victoria is
different," he answered in a troubled tone.  "She is high-minded
and unselfish.  She must have felt that she was doing right."

"I know.  The right thing is always what she does."

His face flushed.  "I can't listen to that, my dear.  You must not
criticize Mary Victoria to me."  Surely standards had fallen, he
told himself, if frailty in woman could defy triumphant virtue.
Fugitive scenes from his early boyhood returned to him, and he
remembered poor Aunt Agatha shrinking, with the immemorial gesture
of the Magdalen, from the startled presence of chastity.

"Did she tell you why it happened?" Milly asked in a tone that was
more scornful than meek.

"Yes, she said she did it to save that--that young fool--" the
epithet burst out explosively.

"To save him?" Milly breathed.  "You mean from me?"

"No, my dear, from destruction.  You must remember that he was in--
well, in severe straits when she found him."

"Didn't she find him for me?"

"I thought so.  Certainly I asked her to look for him on your
account.  Then they were thrown together too much, I dare say.  I
believe he helped her with her orphanage in the Balkans.  After
all, you must make allowances for their falling in love.  There
never has been, and never will be, fairness in love."  He drove in
this point with emphasis.  "But, even then, I am convinced that
Mary Victoria would never have married him if she had not felt she
was doing the right thing."

"Yes, it is easy to feel that.  All it requires is a little

He frowned.  "You would not say that if you knew my daughter.  Her
whole life is devoted to doing good.  She was decorated over and
over again for her war service.  It isn't her fault if she is the
kind of woman who becomes an inspiration to others."  His voice
increased in volume as he went on.  In the last few years he had
repeated these phrases so often that they had begun to sound as
infallible as a confession of faith.

"Is she really so beautiful?" Milly inquired, in her mocking tone.

"Well, of course, she can't help being beautiful any more than men
can keep from admiring beautiful women.  You know that yourself, my
dear," he added indulgently.  "And now, before I go upstairs,
promise me that you will try to get over it."

"Oh, I'll get over it.  Don't people always get over things?"

With that derisive answer ringing in his ears, he left the room and
ascended the curving staircase to Marmaduke's studio.  Yes, it was
useless to deny that a sense of duty, however infirm, had been an
incalculable advantage in dealing with women.


At the top of the dusty staircase a door was open, and plumes of
yellow lamplight streamed out into the passage.  As Mr. Littlepage
ascended, he heard the querulous whine of a confirmed widow, and
knew that Mrs. Burden must have preceded him.  "I shouldn't have
come if I had known she was there," he thought ruefully.  "How in
the world is Marmaduke able to put up with her?"

"My advice is worth so little, my dear lady," Marmaduke was saying
airily, "that I hesitate to inflict it upon you.  If you need the
opinion of a man of sense, you had better consult my brother

That was Marmaduke always.  Even without the mellifluous tones, Mr.
Littlepage would have recognized the tincture of Marmaduke's irony.
Though he was both an artist and a bachelor, two conditions of life
that aroused immediate suspicion in Queenborough, the opportune
loss of a leg in the war had restored him, in a measure at least,
to public esteem.

"I keep reminding her that I have a right to her confidence," Mrs.
Burden was wailing, "but it is no use.  She never tells me

"Well, here is Virginius.  He ought to be able to condole with
you," responded Marmaduke, who was drinking coffee beside a
littered table upon which Mrs. Burden had just placed an untidy
tray.  Thirty years before, or even twenty for that matter,
Marmaduke was one of the handsomest men of his age; and undeterred
by the theory that the feminine eye is indifferent to beauty in the
opposite sex, he had made himself irresistible to every woman
but Louisa Goddard.  Now, approaching sixty, he was still
distinguished; he was even impressive.  His leonine head was
adorned by a picturesque mane of grey hair; his skin was clear and
ruddy; and his eyebrows, still dark and thick, beetled over a pair
of large, deep, and singularly living blue eyes.  Beneath his
romantic nose, which had been compared in his youth to Byron's, a
short, silvery beard spread away from a mouth that was considered
"too fleshy for a refined taste."  Even as long ago as the last
century, it had occurred to Mr. Littlepage that a mouth like
Marmaduke's was as fateful as destiny.  Could the most exemplary
character have triumphed over such unvegetarian, not to say carnal,
lips?  "I ought to thank God for my escape," Virginius had
frequently reminded himself; for, if he had lost much of the simple
piety of his youth, God was still the oldest and the most venerated
of his traditions.

Though Mr. Littlepage respected art, and was fond of remarking that
he liked any colour so long as it was red, few occasions were more
embarrassing to him than those upon which he encountered a lady in
Marmaduke's studio.  To be sure, the room was large, the disorder
great, and the four long windows presented a creditable view of
earth and sky.  But even the thinnest apprehension could scarcely
retreat behind these defences; and surrounded by Marmaduke's
improbable nudes, Virginius was assailed afresh by the suspicion
that every woman was purple under her clothes.  Directly in front
of him an undraped female figure was standing beneath a florid sky,
with her feet buried in splashes of orange beach and vermilion sea.
On her right another naked woman with indelicate limbs was (of all
unlikely occupations!) sewing a white seam in the midst of an apple-
green hill, under the pink thoughts of a flowering almond-tree.
"What on earth!" Virginius thought, turning away.  "Is the world
going mad?  Or is Marmaduke already demented?"

"I've done something new in this one," Marmaduke was saying in the
jesting tone in which he talked of art to Virginius.  "It isn't
only the loosening of technique, though I've tried to see how far I
could go that way.  But you'll notice a new fluency both in the
design and the brushwork.  There's a kind of symphonic rhythm--"

No, Mr. Littlepage had not the remotest idea of his meaning.  All
that nonsense, he told himself angrily, might be the patter of
modernism; but the only impression it made was to strengthen his
innate belief that human flesh is in some way obscene.  In the old
days artists, if they were Americans, had painted decently, and had
draped their figures either in classic raiment or in symbolical
clouds.  But the decorous symbols of Victorian art bore as little
resemblance to Marmaduke's carnivorous nudes as a creamed
cauliflower bears to an under-done beefsteak.  Well, it was
fruitless to regret; it was fruitless to reason; it was fruitless
even to wonder.  On the whole, he preferred to look at Mrs. Burden,
who was depressing but decent in appearance, though she wore at the
moment an agitated frown, as if her moral fibre had suddenly become

"You must have discovered that I have as little taste for symphonic
rhythms as I have for modern art," he observed brusquely, and added
in a kinder tone, "Is there anything I can do for you, Mrs.

Mrs. Burden, long, narrow, and faintly greenish in colour, turned
upon him the tight mouth and the bleak stare of predestination.
"It is about Milly, sir," she replied grimly.  "I was reproaching
Mr. Marmaduke before you came in--"

"Reproaching him?" Mr. Littlepage repeated, in horror.

"Oh no, sir.  I didn't mean that."  Mrs. Burden's cheek flushed to
the mottled lavender of outraged virtue.  "It is only that he
encourages her attitude."

"But it seems to me, my dear lady, that her attitude is

"You speak like a citizen of the twentieth century, Virginius,"
Marmaduke observed, putting down his cup and searching among the
bottles on his table for a half-empty decanter.  "As far as I am
able to make out, this good lady is shocked by what you and I
regard as rational conduct."

Mrs. Burden, who had had her troubles but had never been unrefined,
wiped her reddened eyelids on a black-bordered handkerchief.  "I
expected nothing less of Mr. Marmaduke," she said, "for artists are
not bothered by moral convictions.  But I shouldn't have believed
that you also would encourage Milly."

"Encourage her?  Why, I am doing my best to help her to make
something of her life."

"That, Virginius, is what Mrs. Burden holds against us," Marmaduke
explained in a serious voice.  "She feels that it is immodest to
recover from a seduction.  The moral taboo requires that she should
remain, like poor Aunt Agatha, a ruin."

"If such thing had ever happened to me," whimpered Mrs. Burden, "I
am sure that I should never have held up my head again."

"Does she really mean that she wishes Milly to be marked for life?"
Mr. Littlepage demanded incredulously of his brother.

Though Marmaduke wore a look of innocent gravity, Virginius
suspected that he was enjoying rather than deriding Mrs. Burden's
evangelical conscience.

"Well, after all, why should it surprise us?  Haven't we Aunt
Agatha as an awful example of the power of moral principle?"

"But she was a perfect lady, though fallen; and perfect ladies do
not exist any longer except as perpetual ruins or specimens of
primitive art."

"It all comes of the way girls run about by themselves," Mrs.
Burden lamented.  "I always said that short skirts and silk
stockings would end in immorality.  But I don't reproach myself for
Milly's wildness any more than I do for Alfred's desertion of me.
I told them both I had a right to know where they went; but I could
never make them see what they owed to me.  Nobody can say that I
haven't always done the best that I could; but the more I told
Alfred it was his Christian duty to love me, the more he seemed to
go wrong out of pure contrariness.  And it's the same with Milly
now.  Whenever I try to make her feel proper remorse, she tells me
that if I enjoy remorse so much, I may have her share of it, too."

"It seems to me, my dear lady," Mr. Littlepage admonished gently,
"that you persist in taking too hopeless a view.  I understand the
shock Milly's misfortune must have been to you.  But you must make
allowances for a world at war and the agitated condition of the
public mind."

Mrs. Burden looked at him with opaque conviction.  "It would take
more than a world at war to make me forget my behaviour, sir."

"I am sure of that, Mrs. Burden.  Nevertheless, you must remember
that standards are less severe than they were in our youth.  Is it
possible," he inquired in amazement, since he was still young
enough and open-minded enough for surprise, "that you wish Milly to
be dealt with more harshly?"

"It isn't what I wish, Mr. Littlepage, but what is right.  I can't
reconcile it with my religion not to feel repentance for sin."

"Nothing," Marmaduke commented gleefully, "short of eternal
damnation will satisfy her."

"I was just telling your brother when you came in," Mrs. Burden
whispered to Mr. Littlepage, "that there are few things too sacred
for him to make fun of.  It's living so long in Europe, I suppose,
that has given him his loose way with morals."

"You must not believe all that he tells you, Mrs. Burden.  But it
seems to my unregenerate mind that the first consideration is your
daughter's welfare."

Mrs. Burden set her thin lips so tightly that they dwindled to a
lavender slit.  "Her eternal welfare, Mr. Littlepage."

"You can't mean, my good lady, that you wish to see her suffer on

"It isn't that I wish to see her suffer on earth, sir.  But I've
kept the fear of the Lord in my heart, though so many others have
lost it.  Doesn't the Bible warn us that there is no salvation for
the sinner except through repentance?"

"And what does Milly reply to all this?"

"What she says, sir, is that her life is her own, and she has no

Mr. Littlepage frowned.  "Such talk is little more than the froth
and bubble that is spilled over from modern psychology," he
rejoined, with authority.

"We didn't talk like that when I was young.  Then we were taught to
call sin death, not life, sir."

"Well, labels change even more rapidly than ideas.  I confess that
I am an old-fashioned man in many ways, and, like you, I find it
difficult to move with the times when they appear to be slipping
downhill.  However, Marmaduke will tell you that the world is
better off because it has discarded moral shams."

"I shouldn't like to take my views of life, sir, from an artist,
especially from an artist who is so familiar with undraped

"I respect your delicacy, dear madam, but remember that, even if
Marmaduke is a scoffer, he left his best leg in the war zone."

"I am not begging indulgence for folly," Marmaduke interrupted.  "I
am only asking you to observe that by the time the worst of us have
finished with life, we have suffered enough to pacify even Mrs.
Burden's deity.  Why in the world can't you both leave the poor
girl alone?"

Mrs. Burden choked audibly before she could gather her breath for a
reply.  "You forget, Mr. Marmaduke, that I am her mother!  Is there
anybody who has a better right than a mother to a girl's confidence?
I asked her this very question last night, and all she answered was
that you knew her better than I did."

"Well, I'm not sure that I don't, Mrs. Burden.  After all, there
are stronger ties than the umbilical cord."

"Be careful, Marmaduke!" Mr. Littlepage warned sharply; for it
seemed to him that his brother was becoming ribald in language.
"It isn't fair to torment her when you can't turn her an inch."

"I am not thinking of her, but of Milly.  Hasn't the poor child
been through enough?"

Picking up the coffee-tray as firmly as if it were a moral
principle, Mrs. Burden departed without the sacrifice of her

"There are occasions, Marmaduke," Mr. Littlepage observed sternly,
"when I should think twice before calling you a Southern

"Well, I've accomplished that much!" Marmaduke retorted, with all
the airiness that could be expected of a man who stood on one leg
and even less reputation.  Leaning heavily on his crutch, he moved
to the window and gazed, with the eyes of a caged hawk, at the
mournful horizon, where the autumn twilight was floating down like
a blue shawl.  "God in heaven, these good women!" he exclaimed
under his breath.

"They are not all like that, Marmaduke.  Mrs. Burden, I think, is
an antiquated survival.  There was our mother, for example, and
there is Victoria."

"But look at Aunt Agatha.  Life imprisonment, nothing less.  A free
spirit condemned to perpetual captivity in a ruin."

Put like that, Mr. Littlepage was obliged to admit that poor Aunt
Agatha's story sounded depressing.  "It was unfortunate," he said,
"but you must remember that grandfather died of a broken heart over
Aunt Agatha's disgrace."

To Mr. Littlepage's horror Marmaduke answered with a whistle of
incredulity.  "Well, I like his nerve," he exclaimed in the idiom
of the streets which his brother abhorred, "when you recall the gay
bird he had been in his youth."

"Standards were different then.  Even mother, who had the tenderest
heart in the world, never felt that Aunt Agatha had been treated
too harshly.  I confess that the idea never entered my mind until I
married Victoria."

"Yes, I take off my hat to Victoria," Marmaduke replied generously.
"If she always thinks the wrong thing, she never fails, except by
accident, to do the right one.  The truth is, though we seldom
agree in our opinions, that Victoria and I are the only pair of
genuine idealists left alive."

Mr. Littlepage smiled.  "An unmatched pair, you must admit."

"Perhaps.  Not so unmatched, however, as you might suppose.  The
point we have in common is that we are both genuine.  We are
neither of us so beautiful as Mary Victoria nor so intelligent as
Louisa Goddard; but we are more real as far as we go, which isn't,
I grant you, so far as it might be.  Our only difference arises
when Victoria fails to accept the greatest modern discovery that
nothing we do or say matters to the universe.  She has never lost
the primitive belief that the cosmos is her audience."

"Is there any reverence left in your nature, Marmaduke?"

"Very little.  No genuine idealist who isn't as simple-minded as
Victoria could reverence the conspiracy of evasion you optimists
call civilization.  Only a materialist like Mary Victoria is
capable of that kind of duplicity."

"Whatever you hold against Mary Victoria," Mr. Littlepage rejoined
tartly, "you must admit that she is, with all her faults, an

"On the contrary," Marmaduke chuckled, "she is as materialistic as
big business or organized Christianity.  Have you forgotten the way
she patronized the war as if it were her favourite charity?"

Mr. Littlepage looked away and pondered the question.

"She wasn't alone in that attitude," he replied presently.  "You
were abroad so long that I don't suppose you realize the effect of
war work upon Aunt Agatha.  She had positively a second blooming in
the Red Cross."

Marmaduke shrugged his shoulders after the French fashion, which
Virginius had always disliked.  "Well, you can't blame her.  It was
the woman's year of jubilee.  I, for one, don't hold that against
women.  The only thing I resent is the sacred fallacy that they
dislike war.  What they really dislike is the war that they haven't
a finger in because it is saving some other stronghold of

"It is impossible to argue with you," Virginius returned, with more
dignity than conviction.  Unhappily, he could not deny that all the
women of his acquaintance had been thrilled, at least in the
beginning, by the long reverberations of the Great War.  Mothers
who lost sons were naturally an exception; but he had remarked that
even mothers who lost sons were inspired, if not consoled, by the
popular superstition that heaven lies within the shadow of the
crossing swords, and that death in battle possesses some mysterious
sanctity which is absent from the most heroic death in peace.  For
example, he knew that he himself (as well as Victoria and Aunt
Agatha and Louisa Goddard, who worked untiringly in peace to
discover the cause of war) considered big guns and poison gas
inadequate means of settling an argument, and regarded all wars as
barbarous, except the Civil War and the Spanish War, about which he
had had his doubts, and the Great War, which was fought not only to
end war, but to preserve a moral ideal.  Yes, he could not forget
that he, in company with all the other inhabitants of Queenborough
(not including the few disreputable pacifists to whom they stopped
speaking), had unanimously disapproved of all other wars as
passionately as they approved of the one righteous war they were
immediately waging.

"Don't imagine that I reproach the women," Marmaduke repeated.
"The prime advantage of living in a decadent period is that you are
able to shoulder your own infirmities, and are not obliged to hold
either God or the devil responsible.  All we have to do is to
reconcile ourselves to alternate attacks of civilization and
savagery; and in the interlude between two righteous wars to end
war, while we are recovering our exhausted idealism, it doesn't do
any harm to invent one more benevolent pretence."

"Well, it is a comfort to reflect that you are as inconsistent as
the rest of us," Virginius replied sadly, for Marmaduke's views,
though, of course, unsound in principle, were in some sinister
fashion impervious to logic.  "If you had lived up to your
pessimistic doctrines, you would have remained abroad instead of
returning to Queenborough.  Certainly, you would not have wished to
marry Louisa.  It seems that you have preserved that one ideal,

Tossing his cigarette into the fire, Marmaduke shuffled over to a
cupboard in the corner and picked out his last bottle of Bourbon.
"I've still enough left for two high balls," he said slowly.
Returning to the table, he measured out precisely two equal parts
of whisky, while he listened gravely to his brother's reproachful,
"Merely a thimbleful, Marmaduke.  I'll bring you a bottle of old
Baumgartner to-morrow."

"Louisa isn't an ideal.  She is a habit," was Marmaduke's only
comment.  "And no ideal is so obstinate as a habit."

"I should think by this time you would have become hopeless about

"Never until I see signs in her of weakening moral fibre.  I have
got into the habit of unattainable desire.  It is the only
permanent force left in the perpetual flux of my universe."

"But suppose she should ever relent?"

"She won't.  Make your mind easy.  There is nothing in it for her.
Louisa is wedded to her importance as indissolubly as I am wedded
to an unattainable desire.  Don't, I beg you, seek to divorce
either of us.  We are both well mated in life."

Sipping his whisky and soda, Virginius mused despondently, "Yes, I
must bring Marmaduke a bottle to-morrow.  He was always an
improvident fellow.  Another man would have saved his last high-
ball.  A generous fellow, indeed.  Too generous for his own
advantage, though neither sound in his opinions nor reputable in
his associations.  Yet he must have enjoyed life.  On the whole, he
must have enjoyed life more than I have."  A pulsation, which might
have been, but was not, a spasm of envy, stirred the slumbering
buccaneer in the decorous soul of Mr. Littlepage.  "The difference
is," he thought consolingly, "that I was faithful to my ideals--or
was it merely to my pretences?--while Marmaduke let nothing stand
in the way of delight.  I chose wealth, security, steadfast
position, but Marmaduke gave all those things in exchange for
liberation of spirit.  He has been himself, however ignoble."  Long
ago, he remembered, in his first youth, he also had craved liberty,
but it was always some liberty of to-morrow or the day after.
"Next year, or when the children are grown.  Or perhaps after I
have established a fortune.  Then I shall take my fling before it
is too late to enjoy freedom."  But Marmaduke, he saw with
disapproving envy, had not compromised, had not waited for the
opportune moment.  He was shabby and untidy and disreputable, but
he was also a free spirit.  He had never been twisted into a
conventional shape.  "Isn't there at least a grain of truth in his
charges?" Virginius asked himself gloomily.  "I've spent all my
life trying to conform to other people's ideals.  Fear, not
ambition, has been the mainspring of my character.  Fear of the
stock market, fear of public opinion, fear, most of all, of what
people would think of me."  Aloud he remarked, "Of course, you are
an artist.  Nobody expects much in the way of character from an
artist.  But my position was different.  A lawyer is obliged to
build up a reputation for integrity."

"Well, integrity is a fine thing, whatever you mean by it.  Now, my
integrity consists in being true to my own nature."

"And mine has been exactly the opposite.  Integrity for me has
meant being true to what other people expect of me."

"Yes, I see it in your face."  After draining his glass, Marmaduke
picked up the empty bottle and surveyed it with a mournful
expression.  "You are easily frightened, Virginius.  Not that I
blame you when I think how your nerves must have suffered in the
artificial life you have led.  Artificial conformity is, I believe,
at the bottom of the chronic dyspepsia among American men.  How can
you digest your meals when you live in a protracted panic, and your
whole philosophy of life is rooted in the fear of women?  Rabbit
souls, you are afraid of a shadow.  That is why you are so eager to
escape into the stock market or into a war, which is the only
complete escape from civilization.  Good Lord!  But I don't wonder.
I'd escape that way myself if I were imprisoned in this woman-ruled
society.  After making a republic, you men have not had sufficient
courage to keep what you had won from women, who know nothing of
freedom because they have embraced sacrifice as an ideal.  And you
are still too cowed to realize that you have turned the American
Republic into an oligarchy of maternal instincts.  For the belief
in sacrifice is so firmly embedded in the minds of women that
freedom means little more to them than an extended area of reform.
Already they have obliterated the distinction between a willing and
an unwilling martyrdom.  It is only human, you must admit, that
after centuries of successful self-sacrifice they should seize with
genuine enthusiasm an opportunity to sacrifice the other half of
the world.  So complete a reversal of the situation doesn't often
occur in human affairs."

Mr. Littlepage rose stiffly.  Not only were his deepest convictions
affronted, but his academic mind, subdued by the prevalent habits
of tight thinking and loose living, resented bitterly what he
regarded as an attack upon womanhood.  Moreover, he told himself
sternly, there were occasions when Marmaduke proved that a Southern
gentleman who had lived abroad could become as obnoxious as any

"It is useless to remind you," he said sharply, "that some of us
have retained a sense of moral obligation."

"My dear Virginius!  Am I not reminded of it every time I feel a
hopeless desire for Louisa?  Am I not reminded every time I look at
Milly Burden that Mary Victoria has preserved a sense of moral

A look of distress darkened Mr. Littlepage's bright brown eyes.  "I
am deeply troubled," he confessed anxiously.  "I can't rid myself
of the feeling that in some way I am responsible.  If I had told
Mary Victoria the whole truth, she might never have married him."

"Ease your mind of that worry, Virginius.  Nothing could have saved
that poor devil after he once put himself in the way of Mary
Victoria's sense of duty."

"You must not think that I judge her so harshly, Marmaduke.  I have
confidence enough in her character to feel sure that she acted from
a noble--yes, from an unselfish motive.  What I can't get over is
the way this consummate cad has worked upon the child's belief that
she was saving his life."

"Well, I am not so certain that her belief required working upon.
Mary Victoria seems to know her own mind--or morals--as thoroughly
as any woman I ever encountered.  What she craves--though I am not
sure that she herself is aware of it--is complete domination of the
world within reach of her influence.  The wider her sphere of
inspiration becomes, the more flattering it is to her vanity.  And
vanity, if you will pardon my irreverence, is the controlling
interest in most feminine efforts to improve the nature of man.
Now, Mary Victoria--"

"I cannot listen to this, Marmaduke.  It is not Mary Victoria's
fault that she is one of those women who inspire men."

"That is exactly what I am trying to tell you.  Don't imagine for a
moment that I blame her for being herself.  I know as well as you
do that inspirations, like village idiots, are born, not made.
After all, human nature has not changed since we were young.  Only
the horizon, not the outlook, has become broader."

Mr. Littlepage's mild expression stiffened into a frown.  "I
sometimes think, Marmaduke, that you hold no sentiment above

"If you complained that I hold no age above ridicule, you would be
nearer the truth.  I am, I hope, a citizen of eternity."

"Then you have a longer span than most of us.  All I seek to do,"
said Mr. Littlepage, and he meant it, "is not to fall below the
standards of the age in which I am living.  If we still cherish a
sincere reverence for womanhood, as I prefer to think we do in
Queenborough, it is because we have kept our institutions free from
contamination.  Nothing, for my part, has given me greater pleasure
than the earnestness with which Mary Victoria implanted American
ideals in the Balkans.  General Clintocksy told me on Armistice Day
that she was a beautiful embodiment of the American spirit.  A
saving influence, he called her."

"And yet you are astonished when the influence summons her to save
young Welding."  Marmaduke's satirical tone softened.  "Has it ever
occurred to you, Virginius, that you are a bit of a fool?  I
suppose it is too soon to prophesy; but in the end you may find
that the Great War has demolished you and your last scarecrow of
aristocratic tradition.  A class without tradition but with a
plebeian appetite for corn is already swarming over your field."

Virginius rose in silence and slipped into his overcoat.  A few
hours before he would not have believed that he could feel such
intense irritation at the sound of Marmaduke's voice.  "He holds
dangerous views, especially about sex," he thought with
indignation.  "I wonder if I ought to warn Mrs. Burden that he is
an undesirable associate for her daughter."


Outside, in the dusk, his resentment cooled while he reminded
himself of his father, who had been menaced by a stroke of apoplexy
whenever his opinion was challenged.  It was, he felt, proof of an
unbalanced temper to take Marmaduke seriously.  Only in the last
few years, since the end of the war, had he become morbidly
sensitive to such ridicule.  And not only Marmaduke but Victoria
and Louisa and Duncan and Curle had, each in a different way, begun
to wear on his nerves.  An obscure emotion, rustling like dark
wings in the twilight, fluttered across his usually sanguine mind.
Pausing on the brow of the hill, he looked, beyond the sombre canal
and the Stark chimneys, to the faint glimmer of mother-of-pearl in
the sky.  At the moment, his own disenchantment with life was
engulfed in a sense of universal futility.  "Where is it driving
us?  What is the meaning of it all?" he thought vaguely.  "Yes,
I've missed it.  Whatever it was that would have meant happiness, I
have missed it in life."  Yet he did not know what this fulfilment
was that he had desired more than all else, and had lost without
ever possessing.  Was it merely that, with the rest of mankind, he
had missed the ephemeral flower of delight?  He had had, it is
true, other blessings.  All the favours that society holds in
esteem had been his without effort.  Honour among men, wealth, love--
yes, he supposed he had had love--but joy he had never known in
its fulness.  He had had his years or his seasons, but never his
moments.  For delight, he realized with a flash of vision, lives
only in moments.  It is as fugitive as the wings of a butterfly,
and as flamelike in colour.  It has no years; it has no seasons;
for it is circumscribed by the spirit alone.  "Well, it is too late
now," he thought, without bitterness.  "It is too late now with
this heavy load on my shoulders, and, even if I have missed
happiness, I have accepted my obligations.  I have been a good
citizen and a faithful husband.  I have never shirked my public
duty, and I have been able to make Victoria happy."

Turning away, with this consoling thought in his mind, he crossed
the street and ran against Milly Burden as she flitted out from the
darkness into light at the corner.  For the second time in one
evening she had changed almost miraculously; and while he gazed at
her starry eyes and flushed cheeks, he asked himself in
astonishment if the human heart could be more elastic to-day than
it was when he was young and a lover?  Her step was light, her
smile was defiant, and there was the softness of a carnation bloom
on her lips.  It occurred to him that women, especially women he
had thought of as fragile, had acquired a tremendous power of
recovery.  Even if the passion of love had not altered, it appeared
to have lost, in a measure at least, its finality.

"You look as if you'd made a fresh start in life, Milly," he said

"Oh, I have.  I've made a fresh start."

"You must go straight ahead.  Put the past out of your mind.  After
all, there isn't anything to worry about now.  It depends upon you
whether your life shall be ruined or not."

"Well, it shan't be ruined.  Isn't that right?"

"Yes, that is right, but you mustn't be hard."

She laughed, and in spite of the effervescent sparkle in her face,
he told himself that there was bitterness in her heart.  "Oh, but
it feels so nice to be hard!  If I had known how nice it felt, I
should have been hard all my life."

"That sounds as if you had not put the past out of your mind."

"But I have put it out.  I have put it out of my mind and out of my
reach.  That is why I couldn't stay at home to-night and watch
Mother reading the Bible.  I've wasted too much time.  Life goes
before you know it, and then you're sorry for all the time you've
wasted.  I want to get all the pleasure I can before it is over and
done with."

"Where are you going now?"

"Oh, anywhere!  Anywhere is better than staying at home.  I don't
want ever to think again.  I'm never, never, never going to think

"But you will, my dear.  This mood won't last."  Where in modern
youth, he wondered regretfully, was the proverbial softness of the
feminine nature?  Where was the clinging modesty of all the lost
but lovely ladies in Victorian novels?  For an instant, he was
afflicted by the vision of poor Aunt Agatha swooning in her
"polonaise" upon a mahogany soft, upholstered in horsehair, while
her stern but merciful family bathed her forehead with camphor and
forced a dose of sal volatile between her trembling lips.  Only a
little while ago, it seemed to him now.  Yet here was Milly before
him, neither clinging nor soft.  Yes, customs had changed, was not
morality still as invincible as it had appeared in his youth?  Were
there, as the consecrated verdict of the past had decided, right
and wrong ideas of conduct?  Were there right and wrong habits of
thinking?  Were there right and wrong ways of behaving?  Were
there, indeed, right and wrong manners?

"Have you forgotten that this is Sunday, Milly?" he asked gently.
"You won't find anything open but churches."

"Well, there is out of doors, isn't there?"

"Not at night.  You can't run about by yourself after dark."

She laughed.  "Oh, I shan't run about.  I'll go somewhere, if it's
only to church.  I can stand church better than Mother."

"But your mother may be there."

"I shan't go to that one."  Her voice was so mocking that he asked
himself if she was merely deriding him?  "I'm looking for

"That's a dangerous search, my dear."

"Not when you don't really believe in it.  Nothing is dangerous,
not even love, when you don't really believe in it."

"You will believe in it again, never fear."

"Not in love.  Oh, never in love again.  In pleasure, perhaps, but
not in love--not, at least, in the kindness of love."

With a start, he remembered Mrs. Dalrymple.  Were all women, at
least all frail women, alike?  And did all women, firm or frail,
value loving-kindness more deeply than love?"

"Some day you may find both together.  You are very young."

She shook her head.  "Can you find what you don't believe in?"

"I am not sure, but you'll find your faith again."

"I am not looking for faith.  I have given up happiness, but even
when you've given up happiness, pleasure is left."

"Be careful, Milly, be careful."

"Oh, I'll be careful.  I'll be so careful that I shall never again
mistake pleasure for love."  They had reached the corner; and for
an instant before parting, she looked up at him with a smile that
was mocking, ironic, defiant, and mysteriously desolate.  Then,
after the lightest touch on his arm, she opened a gate and ran
quickly up the steps of a house.

"I'd give my right arm if it hadn't happened," he thought
miserably.  "I'd give almost as much if I had never written that
letter to Mary Victoria.  The truth is that the world has never
been fair to women.  Men have never been fair to women."  Looking
straight overhead, he saw a bright and clement star shining through
the powdery bloom of the dusk.  The star reminded him of the lost
sweetness of life, and the lost sweetness of life reminded him of
Mrs. Dalyrmple.  Suddenly, with one of those swift alternations of
mood, which were, he told himself, the best survival of youth, he
felt hopeful again, he felt hopeful and young and expectant.




In her upstairs sitting-room, which was the brightest and most
private room in the house, Mrs. Littlepage was discussing the
situation, as she discussed every event in life, with Louisa
Goddard.  From one of the four long windows, where a canary in a
gilded cage was tunefully greeting the day, a band of pale sunshine
streamed in a border of filmy lace over the maroon-coloured carpet.
Louisa's chair was placed in the middle of the sunshine, and
delicate fringes of light waved over her narrow hat of black satin
and splintered back from her eyeglasses.

"I hated to bother you, Victoria," she was saying, while she
inserted a programme into a large yellow envelope, "but the proper
handling of child material seems to be the most important subject
before us."

Mrs. Littlepage, who was looking pale and very tired, nodded with
her smile of unselfish goodness.  "Nothing, of course, is more
important," she assented, and thought wearily of Mary Victoria.
Her face, which Louisa had admired and loved since childhood, was
graver and nobler than usual, and the lips she pressed firmly
together showed a bluish tinge in the sunlight.

"Are you ill, Victoria?" her friend asked anxiously.  "Is it time
for your digitalis?"

Victoria shook her head; while a lock of greying hair slipped down
over her clear forehead and the smooth pale curve of her cheek,
which had the softness of old velvet.  "Not yet.  There is nothing
to worry about, Louisa."  She paused, moistened her dry lips, and
added slowly, "I have decided to say nothing to Virginius about my

"Are you sure that is wise, dear?"

"It would only make him anxious and unhappy.  He would be afraid to
ask me to lift a finger, and it would be the same way with the
children.  It would mean spreading my death over months instead of
hours.  Besides, I haven't the strength for emotional scenes.
Since Mary Victoria's return, I feel that I have less strength than
ever.  I find any agitation exhausting."

Taking Victoria's large, soft hand, Louisa held it against her
cheek while her eyes filled slowly with tears.  "I am sorry the
doctor told you, Victoria."

"But I knew it, you see.  Mother died that way, and I knew all the
symptoms.  When my first heart attack came after that spell of
pneumonia, I knew at once what it meant.  Of course, he tried to
deceive me; but I was so sure that I had only a little while longer
to live that at last he told me the truth.  It wasn't as if it had
been such a terrible shock.  My chief fear was that Virginius and
the children might find it out.  I did not wish to spoil their

"But Dr. Buchanan said you might live for years."

"Yes, he told me so, but I am sure he didn't believe it."

"Oh, dearest, why not?"

Victoria sighed.  "I can't explain even to you, Louisa.  You see, I
went through it all with my mother, though Dr. Buchanan declares
that there's nothing in the idea of heredity.  He says that my
having the same kind of heart attacks is merely a coincidence--"

"He must know," Louisa interrupted emphatically.  "That is his

"Yes, I suppose he knows, but something tells me that he is

"Isn't it only that you allow yourself to take a depressing view?"

Again Victoria moistened her lips before she answered.  Though she
had grown heavier in figure since her illness, it seemed to Louisa
that she had never recovered her look of abundant but sober
vitality.  For one thing the colour of her complexion had altered,
and the vivid bloom in her cheeks had divided into tiny veins which
were duller and tinged with purple.  Even her eyes looked tired
under the full white lids, with their pale lashes, and there were
drooping lines besides her fine straight nose and at the corners of
her mouth, which had not lost its serene smile.  "Her expression is
so lovely that it is not easy to tell how she is feeling," Louisa
thought, holding Victoria's hand.  "With a smile like hers, it
doesn't matter even whether you are beautiful or plain."

"No, I haven't really felt depressed," Victoria was saying gently.
"That is the strangest thing that has happened, and there isn't
anyone but you in the world who could understand what I am trying
to tell you.  I never wished to die.  I always thought, indeed,
that it would be a shock to find out I had only a little while
longer to live.  Yet, now that it has really happened, it doesn't
seem to make very much difference.  It is so queer that I can't
even try to explain it.  I am so tired that it takes all the
strength that I have left just to try to keep Virginius and the
children from discovering the truth.  That is the only thing I
worry about.  Every bit of my energy goes into pretending that I am
better and trying not to spoil their winter before I am obliged to
give up.  I go on day after day just as if I were in the midst of a
great tumult, a terrible soundless noise, and were waiting for it
to stop."

"I have always said that you were too unselfish, Victoria."
Releasing her friend's hand, Louisa found a handkerchief in her bag
and wiped her eyes.

Victoria shook her head.  "I am not sure that it is unselfishness,
Louisa.  The truth is that things never seemed as important to me
as to other people.  Life has never seemed too important.  Often,
when I gave up my pleasures as a girl and was praised for
unselfishness, it meant simply that my wishes were not strong
enough for me to make an effort about them.  Sometimes I think I
was born inert rather than active.  I don't mean that I haven't
been happy; but even happiness has never seemed so important to me.
I've had a perfect marriage, and I think Virginius has never missed
anything.  The chief satisfaction in my life is the feeling that I
have made Virginius happy--"  Checking herself abruptly, she caught
her lower lip between her teeth.  Not even to Louisa could she
confess that there had been moments, there had been hours, when she
had longed for something more satisfying than any love Virginius
was able to give.

"You have, my dearest."  Louisa was crying into her handkerchief.
"You have been a perfect wife to Virginius.  No man has ever been
happier."  Wiping her eyes briskly, she added in a more cheerful
tone while she polished her glasses, "If only you could convince
yourself that Dr. Buchanan is right and you may yet live for

Victoria smiled and patted her friend's arm.  "Well, perhaps he is.
Even that doesn't seem so very important to me.  What I mind most
is this noise all about me--this noise that you can't hear with
your ears, if you know what I mean.  It is the loudest kind of
confusion, and yet I know that it has no actual sound, that it has
no actual existence.  Some day, I suppose, it will have to stop."

"Of course it will stop, dear.  It is nothing but your imagination."

"That is what Dr. Buchanan says, but I know better.  I have so
little imagination, you see, that I could never have invented a
tumult like this.  Do you know," she continued, smiling into the
glitter of Louisa's eyeglasses, "I have at moments a ridiculous
feeling that the tumult is all in some other dimension, that
something beyond time and space is trying to reach me."

Louisa looked at her closely.  "But you never felt the slightest
interest in such things."

"I am not interested now.  I am merely wondering how long this
soundless noise will go on."

"Perhaps if the doctor gave you a sedative?"

"He has been giving me bromide, but I sleep well enough.  The only
thing that keeps me awake is anxiety about Mary Victoria."

"Her marriage may turn out better than we expect," Louisa rejoined,
but her tone was far from emphatic.  "Have you heard anything more
to Martin's discredit?"

"Only what Virginius told us.  He blames himself bitterly for his
share in the matter."

"I hoped, dear, that he would not tell you."

"It disturbed him so much that he could not keep it to himself.  We
are making every effort now to save Mary Victoria's happiness.  But
we both feel distressed about that other girl.  Far worse, indeed,
because she has no family to protect her."

"Then it is Milly Burden," Louisa said slowly.  "I suspected as

"That is why Virginius feels it so deeply."

Louisa, who had a frugal though not a narrow mind, gazed at her
with sympathy.  "It must have been a great sorrow to Virginius.  Do
you know, I sometimes wonder how he could have lived to be fifty-
seven and practised law for more than thirty years, and yet never
have lost his illusions."

Victoria smiled tenderly.  "I cannot be too grateful that I married
a man who hasn't that other side to his nature."

"I am sure that no man could have less of it," Louisa rejoined.
"You know, without my telling you, that there isn't anybody in the
world I admire more than Virginius.  But, just because he is so
free from the weaknesses of other men, do you think he may have
been a little unjust to Mary Victoria's husband?"

For a moment Victoria brooded over the idea.  Then crossing the
room she searched in her desk for a memorandum she had promised to
give Curle at lunch.  "I am not entirely satisfied about that," she
replied presently, while Louisa observed, as she had done so often
before, that Victoria's slightest gesture had a royal air of
command, of grave decision, of effortless virtue.  "Mary Victoria
says only that he had never known the right kind of woman until he
met her."  A shadow flitted, without settling, across her serene
features.  "After all, what is the right kind of woman?  And why
should any kind of woman be responsible for the moral sense of a

Louisa glowed with admiration.  "I have always said, Victoria, that
you are too broad-minded to be a woman."

"Well, why shouldn't women be as broad-minded as men?"

"I don't know why, but they are not.  They are not--usually."

"Well, you are, Louisa, and I am delighted to see that your fine
example is felt more and more every year in this community."

The flush in Louisa's face spread upward to the waving line of grey
hair.  She had worked hard to attain her intellectual eminence, and
she had reached the sanguine period of life when a tribute to her
mind was as much enjoyed as a compliment to her appearance.  Though
she had little exact knowledge, that little was an elastic measure,
and could be stretched, with thinning substance, over a variety of
unfamiliar topics.  Versatility combined with the manner of
authority had elevated her to a position in the mental life of
Queenborough which sound learning and a vast accumulation of
knowledge could not have attained.  The ease with which her well-
oiled mind turned from antique manners to contemporary mannerless
youth was respected in an epoch which would have preferred to order
its culture, as it ordered its Battle Creek health foods, from the
most convenient green-grocer.

"It is like you to say that, Victoria," she responded gratefully,
but with proper dignity.  "You know that I could never have become
what I am to-day without your friendship.  I cannot begin to tell
you what you and Virginius have meant to me."  Choked by emotion,
she glanced down at the large yellow envelope as if it were some
mysterious talisman of success.  Then, recovering herself with an
effort, while her thin throat worked convulsively beneath the band
of black velvet ribbon, she asked slowly, "You are sure, then, that
Virginius has not been--well, the least bit unjust?"

"Nobody could be fairer than Virginius; but you know how vague he
becomes when you try to get anything out of him."

Yes, Louisa knew.  She had had her disappointments in life, and she
was inclined, moreover, to place masculine vagueness among the
minor trials of a woman's lot.

"All lawyers are secretive, I suppose," she remarked, "and Mary
Victoria is still too much in love to be just, even if she knew the
whole truth."

"She is still seraphic, poor child.  Almost too much so, I
sometimes tell myself; but girls in this age are far less reserved
than we used to be.  I should never have dreamed of putting my hand
on Virginius before other people, except of course when I was
obliged to take his arm in the street.  That is why, I suppose, I
can't get used to seeing Mary Victoria more demonstrative in public
than I could ever have been even in private.  Virginius cannot bear
to watch them embrace each other so openly.  He told me yesterday
that he sometimes thought the worst man was more modest than the
best woman.  It is impossible for him to understand that such
freedom is merely the trend of the age."

"Certainly, it is the trend of the age," assented Louisa, who was
an authority upon trends, ancient and modern, and had found them to
be of inestimable value in the dissemination of culture.  Ancient
trends were naturally more instructive because they were less
pushing than modern ones, but all were equally useful as warning
examples.  Never, indeed, in an historical survey, which, though
adequate to her purpose, was brisk rather than thorough, had she
been able to discover a trend that moved in a proper direction.
All flowed, however rapidly or sluggishly, over an immovable
obstacle, which was revealed by the ebbing tide of progress as a
bulwark of the best minds.  Take, for instance, this bold modern
trend towards loose behaviour in love.  To Louisa, who was nothing
if not compact in principle, and who disapproved of looseness in
any form, even in her attire, the present impetus toward indecency
appeared far less pronounced than similar trends in Babylon (if you
could judge a whole civilization by the biased ejaculations of
prophets) or even in Rome, where one could rely, of course, upon
the impregnable reputation of Gibbon.

"Surely it is needless to remind Virginius," she said presently,
still contrasting the old with the new improprieties, "that Mary
Victoria is never prompted by any but the highest motives."

Victoria sighed.  "He understands that--or, at least, I hope he
understands it.  As I've told you so often, Mary Victoria has been
the romance of his life.  No, I don't mean that he hasn't been a
perfect husband--only that there was something more than love in
his adoration of Mary Victoria.  It was a blow to him when she
insisted upon going back to the Balkans.  Though he said nothing to
dissuade her, I could tell that she felt he could not enter into
her motive."

"Well, she must feel it still more since her marriage."

"How can she help it?  Why, to hear Virginius talk you would
imagine that he had never been in love in his life.  But men are
like that," she added in a troubled tone.

"Yes, men are like that," Louisa agreed; and she continued merrily,
after a pause in which she retreated from the daylight of history
back into the grey dawn of evolution, "men and women are so
different that I sometimes wonder how they could have sprung from
the same trilobite."

"You would wonder more," Victoria rejoined, and she was not
smiling, "if you had ever married."

"I am not sure."  Louisa looked at her attentively, "Sometimes it
seems to me that the spectator has a better perspective."

For she was an impartial observer rather than a censorious critic
of the institution of marriage; and she had learned to sift her
facts with the cool judgment and the ample leisure of science.
Virginius, in common with many other men who find biology
everywhere, even in such unlikely places as the minds of confirmed
spinsters, had confused the scientific spirit with a repressed
mating instinct.  It is true that Louisa had a lively curiosity on
the subject of sex; but her inquisitiveness was that of the mind
alone.  Her natural bias (had she not been singularly free from
moral infirmities) would have been in the direction of avarice
rather than impropriety.  A guilty passion had always appeared to
her, indeed, to be the most overrated of pleasures.  To be sure,
avarice was a less popular vice, and lent itself with difficulty to
the cinema or even to the more serious drama; but in actual
experience, you at least had something to show for it after it was
well over.  With illicit love, on the contrary, she had not failed
to observe that its victims were frequently bereft not only of
lovers, but even of the ordinary comforts of life.  And, after all
was said and done by romantics, it was impossible to deny that the
comforts of life were more sustaining in the end than the most
illegal of love affairs.

With a spring she rose and fastened the flaring collar of her
lambskin wool.  Then, turning to the mirror, she slanted her hat at
the correct angle and adjusted her eyeglasses on the aristocratic
arch of her nose.  "For my part," she concluded indulgently, while
she drew on her long grey gloves and picked up the yellow envelope,
"I have great sympathy for Mary Victoria.  Martin is very
attractive, and it is easy to understand how she was swept away by
her feeling."

"Swept away by her feeling," Victoria repeated, sinking back upon
the flowered chintz of her couch.  What did it mean, she wondered
idly, to be swept away from one's anchor, to be swept out into the
vast sunlit immensities of the universe?  In all her life of fifty-
five years, never for an instant, never for a single flaming point
of time or eternity, had she forgotten herself and her duty to
others.  Was it possible that she had missed some finer essence of
living, some purer distillation of joy?  Suppose she had once, only
once in the cloudless innocence of her youth, forgotten everything
but delight.  Suppose she had lost herself for an instant only, as
a swallow skims and sinks and darts and curves and is lost, utterly
lost, in the radiant mist of the afterglow.  Suppose Virginius,
whom she had loved, had not been Virginius at all, but the intrepid
lover, the young Lochinvar of the mind.  There was a romantic and
very silly dream which had returned to her often as a girl and once
again in her young wifehood.  While it lasted she had imagined
herself to be in the midst of an immense level plain, caught up
suddenly into the thunder of galloping horses.  Far in the distance
she had first heard them approaching, while a liquid fire ran in
her veins, and she had asked herself, "Is it he?  Is he coming at
last?"  Then, in her sleep, she was lifted by an arm like the wind,
and borne away, with the wild horses, over the rustling broom-
sedge, into a sunset that was like the fire at the heart of an
opal.  Well, that was only a dream.  Outside of legend there were
no young Lochinvars left in the world, and all the wild horses, she
remembered with a pang, had been slaughtered.  After the April
dream had come the bloomless actuality.  After the young Lochinvar
of the mind had come the Southern gentleman as lover and husband.
Life, even at its best, was never what you had dreamed, was seldom
what you had expected.  Never, in its imperfection, is it woven of
the dawn and dusk that is legend; never is it enkindled with the
burning sweetness of ecstasy.  But she had been happy.  It was not
fair to Virginius, she thought, to imagine that she had missed
something.  It was not fair to Virginius to feel that marriage,
however perfect, had left some secret core of her being still
unsatisfied.  "No, it is not fair to Virginius," she repeated
firmly.  A dart of remorse stabbed through her when she realized
how hurt Virginius would be if he should ever discover that, in the
complete surrender of marriage, she had held something back, that
she had never yielded some inviolable sanctity of the spirit.


In the dining-room Mrs. Littlepage found Curle, who had a punctual
appetite though his manners at the table left much to the
imagination.  Well, if he never did anything worse, she said to
herself, than bolt his food, there was sufficient cause to be
thankful.  Even as a baby he had given her few anxious hours, and
for this reason, so illogical is the maternal heart, she had always
preferred Duncan, who had been from his protracted birth a thorn in
her bosom.  For Duncan had quality, if he lacked character, and
quality more than any other virtue endeared a human being to
Victoria.  In spite of the doleful cast of his features and his
habit of expecting the worst, which seemed to make him an excellent
prophet, he brightened the dullest room for his mother as soon as
he entered it.  Though he was young and lean and dark there were
times when he reminded her of Marmaduke, who was stout and elderly
and grey.  But, then, it was astonishing how many dissimilar
persons and objects reminded her of Marmaduke.  And this was the
more amazing when she recalled that she disapproved of Marmaduke as
heartily as she could disapprove of a member of the Littlepage
family.  Not that she had ever been unjust to him.  Not that she
had ever failed to do her duty by Virginius's brother, and indeed
by all of them, including poor Aunt Agatha, whom she had released,
as far as she was able, from a solitary confinement of genteel
tradition.  For it was Victoria who had dragged poor Aunt Agatha
out into the benign shelter of the Red Cross and filled her
nerveless hands with unmade pyjamas.  Yes, that one good thing at
least, Mrs. Littlepage reflected, had come out of the war.  At
sixty-five poor Aunt Agatha had actually begun to put out a pale
December blooming, and since the armistice she had displayed this
fresh moral weakness for moving pictures.  Taken all in all,
Victoria decided, Aunt Agatha, in spite of the outraged morality of
her youth, was surpassed by Marmaduke as a family trial in the
present age.  Was it possible that morality had become less
brittle?  Or was it merely that a sense of dishonour, like widow's
weeds, had diminished in quantity?  Nobody, least of all Victoria,
could begrudge the price of moving pictures, or even of anything so
indigestible as a banana sundae.  Yes, it was easy to feel
benevolent toward poor Aunt Agatha, and to dismiss her, without
anxiety, as a case of settled, if frivolous, regeneration.  But
Marmaduke, being masculine, was a more difficult problem.  He had,
it was useless to deny, the fatal personality that overflows,
pervades, and submerges.  A poor painter, she had heard, in spite
of his pretensions (for can an artist who has never been able to
make a living, repeated incredulous Queenborough, be other than a
poor painter).  Yet, poor and unrecognized, at least in
Queenborough, which was careful in matters of reputation, he was
cheerful, he was contented, he was even hilarious.  "Strings are
what make trouble, my dear Victoria," he had said at their parting,
"and there are no strings to my soul.  The sooner you and Virginius
break your strings, the happier you will be in the next
generation."  As if she and Virginius were not happy together!  As
if, except for Virginius's chronic dyspepsia and her double
pneumonia last winter, they were not the happiest married pair in
their own or Marmaduke's circle!

"I asked your uncle Marmaduke to lunch," she said now to Curle, who
was looking impatient, "but you can never depend on him."

"We aren't waiting for him, are we?"

"Oh, no, as soon as your father comes, we shall begin."

"Isn't father here yet?"

"No, he is a little late.  Mary Victoria is using his car, and she
expected to stop by his office."

"I suppose she will pick up Martin at the same time.  He started in
the bank to-day, didn't he?  You can't say that he is not trying to
live up to Mary Victoria."

"Yes, I am very much pleased by the way he has gone straight to
work.  I imagined from the things he said to your father that he
might just sit down and expect us to provide for him.  So many
writers are like that.  It isn't," she continued thoughtfully, "as
if he wished to write wholesome books that would make the world
better.  His ideas are all dreadfully morbid."

"Punk, that's what it is!" Curle chirped, while his mother shivered
as if the word had slapped her on the cheek.  Why was it, she asked
herself, in sudden depression, that a sanguine temperament so often
overflowed into vulgar ejaculations?  Curle, she acknowledged
gladly, was one of those fortunate natures who live in perfect
harmony with the temper and tone of their age; and certainly he
could not be blamed if the temper and tone of the present sounded
shrill and mechanical.  Standing there in the pale sunlight, which
quivered like gauze over the dark red curtains, the Duncan Phyfe
dining-table, the old English silver on the sideboard, and the
rarest English mezzotints on the ivory walls--standing there,
against that decorous Virginian background, Curle appeared, she
told herself sadly, as inspiring and almost as loud as a regimental
band.  Short, thick, freckled, puffed up with optimism, and fairly
bursting with public spirit, he was the kind of man, she decided,
who never fails to make a poor lover and a good husband.  The
trouble was that so few women, even among those who desire
everything else, could possibly desire Curle as lover or husband.
Already, at twenty-eight, he was making a conspicuous success in
his business, which was real estate; and he was engaged now in the
project of dividing up some old cornfields into avenues and
boulevards.  This daring exploit had been magnified by owners of
the local press (who happened to own also several of the
cornfields) into a brilliant achievement.  To the annoyance of
Virginius, who had an old-fashioned distaste for advertisement,
Curle had sprung in a single season from genteel poverty to vulgar
success.  Within the last few months, since he had represented the
wish-fulfilment of so many of his fellow citizens, his opinions had
been eagerly sought upon every subject, from "the art of
advertising" to the value of Christianity as big business.

"I shall have to snatch a mouthful and run," he remarked, drawing
out his watch, a massive tribute to his ability from the National
Get Acquainted Club, a branch of which he had organized in
Virginia.  "To Curle Littlepage," read the inscription, "one of
those public-spirited Virginians who are helping to make our
country what it is."

"Well, if they aren't here in five minutes, we'll sit down," she
answered wearily.  "There's the car now.  I hope Mary Victoria
remembered to stop for your father."

Curle laughed while his mother shivered again.  "As if Mary
Victoria ever forgot anything!"

"She never used to, I know.  But since her marriage she has seemed
to me a little--well, just a very little inclined to be casual."

"She's over head and ears in love, if that's what you mean.
However, take my word for it, that won't worry us long.  Martin is
a good-looking chap, but if I know anything about men, and I think
I do, he lacks staying power."

Mrs. Littlepage sighed again.  "She thinks he is a genius."

The front door opened and shut; there was a stir in the hall, an
imperious step on the threshold; and Mary Victoria entered with a
streamer of sunlight from the French window.  Erect, fair, slender,
in her knitted sport frock of pale green, she reminded her
sentimental mother of a tall golden lily in its sheath of leaves.
Yes, Mary Victoria was beautiful, too beautiful to have married a
man who was unworthy in character as well as impoverished in
circumstances.  And it wasn't, of course, as if he had distinguished
himself in the war, which seemed to her, as Marmaduke said, a
flourishing hotbed of honours.  It was true that a renown
for heroism did not last to-day as well as it once lasted in the
preserving fluid of Confederate memorials.  Though it was only five
years since the Great War, Victoria had already observed that
glory, when it was not fortified by independent means, was
beginning to languish.  Even in Queenborough where, because of the
military ideals of Southern gentlemen, the war had achieved a great
reputation, wealth was abolishing gallantry as a title to fame.
For the prosperous non-combatants were reluctant to provide a
living for the saviours of that democracy which had been so well
thought of while it was endangered.  More than once, she had
reflected that a parade of heroes in Granite Boulevard would melt
away before a procession of millionaires; and that the men who had
saved our country would receive scant applause in the presence of
the men who were selling it.  Yet, admitting that prosperity, not
patriotism, is the democratic road to renown, she could not help
regretting that Mary Victoria's husband had not so much as a medal
to show for his service.  Even a foreign decoration, which was as
much, perhaps, as she ought to expect, would have proved at least
that he had known the right people.  But he had won no decoration;
and though he was well-favoured, even the bountiful Queen of
Berengaria had overlooked him when she distributed honours.  Which
only showed, Mrs. Littlepage concluded, while she returned Mary
Victoria's kiss, that in war as in peace money is more important
than anything else.

"I'm sorry we are late, Mother dear," Mary Victoria apologized in
her clear, fluting tones.  "But Cousin Daniel wished to have a talk
with Martin."

"It doesn't matter a bit, darling.  Has everything been arranged
with Daniel?"

"Oh, yes, perfectly.  I knew it would be all right with Cousin
Daniel as soon as I explained the situation.  Of course, it isn't
the kind of work Martin prefers, but he is willing to take anything
for a start.  After all, being in a bank is ever so much better
than the other place."

Martin, coming in immediately after her, looked fatigued but
admiring; and Mrs. Littlepage, who lacked temperament but had had
experience, wondered what would happen when fatigue at last
triumphed over admiration.  Attractive in his way, she mused,
though she suspected that he was deficient in the qualities which
she called determination and strength of character, though Curle,
in his sprightly style, referred to them as "pluck and punch."
Nevertheless, she decided that she must drop a word of warning to
Mary Victoria; for even a weak man, especially when he is a failure
as well, will not stand too much driving.

"Cousin Daniel was really lovely about it," Mary Victoria
continued.  "He was so glad to be able to give Martin a start in
Queenborough, and he was as sympathetic as he could be when I told
him of all our difficulties.  I made him understand that Martin
will be obliged to go slowly at first because of his illness."

"There is a great deal of good in Daniel," Mrs. Littlepage
remarked, as she sank into her chair and glanced down the long
table, with its delicate lace mats and glowing fruits and flowers.
"You must remember, too, that you have always been his favourite."

"That's because I've tried to be nice to him," Mary Victoria
rejoined.  "Mother, don't you think Martin had better sit by me so
I can keep an eye on him?  You know the doctor at Vichy told me I
must watch his diet carefully until he is quite well again."

Martin was smiling vaguely, with the dazed and blinking expression
that came over him at moments, as if he had stumbled from the
darkness into too strong a glare.  Was Mary Victoria almost too
much for him?  Beautiful as she was, Mrs. Littlepage would not have
called her daughter "a restful person," and surely Martin, with his
harassed manner and burning eyes, looked as if he needed rest even
more than he required inspiration.

"I think, if you don't mind, I'd like to sit by Aunt Agatha," he
said in a jesting tone.  "She is so quiet."

For an instant Mrs. Littlepage stared at him, while she asked
herself anxiously if Mary Victoria had married a man who was not
quite right in his head?  Since that fatal hour, in the early
'seventies, when she had yielded too much, no man had ever been
bold enough to solicit a favour from poor Aunt Agatha.  No man,
indeed, had ever dared to approach her; for poor Aunt Agatha had
been a carefully guarded ruin, and Victoria was aware that Southern
gentlemen of the great tradition visited such ruins only by
moonlight.  "Why, of course, you may sit by her," she answered at

"Is there a new moving picture?" Curle asked in the indulgent tone
he used to the mentally or morally incompetent.  Even when they
were small, Victoria had exacted that the children should address
at least one cheerful remark to poor Aunt Agatha at every meal.
Without turning her head, on which the silvery water waves were
plastered down above an unwrinkled forehead, Aunt Agatha replied in
an almost inaudible voice that she was going to a picture palace at
half-past two o'clock, but she had forgotten the name of it.

While she answered, the idea crossed her still and shallow mind
that she had missed a great deal of pleasure by being born at least
fifty years too soon.  Not that she envied either the world or her
sex this new liberty, which appeared to her, indeed, to be sadly
over-estimated.  But an age in which no lady was too frail to
attend a play alone and soda-fountains occupied the homes of a more
masculine indulgence, seemed to her, on the whole, better worth
living in than the ceremonious era that had witnessed her fall.
Though she seldom thought about anything, and would have chosen
almost any other subject sooner than moralize over her own tragedy,
there were hours when, tirelessly knitting baby blankets of pink
wool, she would ask herself in the windy emptiness that so often
inflates a reformed character, if the women of her generation had
ever realized what the passing of Victoria had meant to them?

While she sat now between Martin and Mary Victoria, mincing her
food after the fastidious manner of her girlhood, the twilight
vacancy of her mind was engulfed in a stifling fog from the past.
Out of this darkness, fragments of memory appeared for an instant,
whirling like wreckage strewn on the waves of a torrent.  "A lady
always preferred the wing of a chicken when I was young.  Never the
leg.  It would have been indelicate to prefer the leg, even if she
called it dark meat.  But now dark or light makes no difference.
She may prefer any part, even the pope's nose, without being
considered indelicate . . .  Mother used to tell us about Great-
aunt Matilda.  She was considered unrefined because, when she was
asked what part of the turkey she preferred, she always replied
'the pope's nose' . . .  But that was three generations ago . . .
A great deal may happen in less than three generations . . .  He
hasn't a bad face, this young man . . .  I like pointed features.
They remind me of a fox . . .  I always liked foxes.  It is
horrible the way people hunt them with dogs.  And deer too.  It is
horrible to be hunted.  When human beings are civilized, they will
stop hunting things to death.  What would they think of a God that
hunted men with immortal hounds?  Yet they hunt animals that way.
For pleasure--merely for pleasure.  And women.  They used to hunt
fallen women, and witches too, as cruelly as they hunt animals now.
But Duncan won't hurt foxes.  And Marmaduke says only savages enjoy
tormenting animals.  He says even religion is not so cruel as it
used to be . . .  But how can religion be cruel if God is a loving
Father? . . .  Well, all that is too deep for a woman's mind.
Father used to say that a woman's mind is like a flower, designed
to shed fragrance, not sense. . . .   I wonder . . .  I wonder if
people really know any more to-day than they used to? . . .  That
young man has nice eyes too.  I don't believe he would think me
bold if I looked straight at him.  Not at my age.  At my age men
don't think about you at all.  Only when they need you to make
pyjamas.  Only in a war.  I don't like war, but I made nice
pyjamas.  Yes, I made nice pyjamas.  The other women thought I was
silly to put in such fine stitches.  They told me I was wasting my
eyesight.  'Just so they will hold together, that's all we ask.'
Who said that?  It couldn't have been Victoria.  No, it was Bessie
Caldwell.  'Just so they will hold together.'  That was the way she
talked.  'More and worse is my motto,' she told me.  And the others
were that way too.  I should never have put a wounded soldier in
the pyjamas they made.  And how did they know who would wear them?
I used to hope they would send mine to the kind of young man I
should have chosen.  Tall, strong, fair (I never liked dark men).
It's funny, at my age, but even now I don't like dark men.  That
was the reason I always took the blue material before the other
women could get it.  Never grey.  I always hated grey because I've
had to wear it so much.  But blue I like.  Blue is better even than
pink for young men . . ."

Virginius and Duncan, who had lingered over a private refreshment
in the library, appeared, with smiling faces and restored spirits,
and inquired eagerly if Victoria had provided their favourite
dishes for lunch?  At this question, Victoria transferred her
patient gaze from Aunt Agatha to her husband.  Puzzled, but
uncomplaining, she wondered mildly why Virginius, who would
cheerfully sacrifice his life for his country, had never consented
to surrender his daily thimbleful of old Bourbon!  To Victoria,
whose apocalyptic vision of a well-ordered world was one in which
masculine appetites were harnessed to the feminine ideal of
service, nothing was easier than the sacrifice of her own or other
people's freedom.  As with most women in affluent circumstances,
liberty was little more to her than an illustrious name for which
heroic but restless men had died in the past.

"You are not often so hungry," she remarked, with smiling wifely

Though she addressed Virginius, it was Duncan who answered with his
laugh of amiable indifference.  "It isn't every day that Father
prefers his thimbleful before lunch.  Why didn't you join us,

Martin looked up with startled eyes, as if he had been day-dreaming
beside Aunt Agatha.  "Nobody asked me."

"Why, I told Mary Victoria to send you after us."

"I knew whisky wasn't good for him," Mary Victoria explained,
sweetly but firmly.  "The doctor told me a glass of sherry with his
meals would be more wholesome.  I begged a bottle of Father's
oldest Amontillado.  Here is your glass, Martin.  Randall put it at
my place."

While she transferred the glass with her manner of bright
competence, and watched Randall, the butler, fetch the bottle of
sherry from the sideboard, her face wore its usual look of angelic
patience.  "A flame of loveliness," Mrs. Littlepage thought
tenderly, and wondered where she had first heard the phrase that
sprang into her mind.  "Beauty like that is a flame of loveliness."
Then, while the flash of irritation with which Martin glanced at
his wife subsided into a dazed and smouldering worship, Victoria
added shrewdly to herself, "Yet men are strange creatures, and even
beauty wears dull and tarnished after too constant use.  If only
she will learn that husbands are safe to lead but dangerous to
drive."  And the thought lingered in her just and benevolent mind
that relief work in devastated regions is not the best preparation
for marriage.


Bracing herself with an effort, for she felt very tired and there
was a warning pulse in her arteries, Victoria became aware that a
luminous veil had dropped between her and life.  While she sat
there, beyond the lace and fruits and flowers, at the head of her
table, it seemed to her that she had withdrawn from reality, and
that time, like a shallow stream, flowed on without her.  "After
all," she thought, with a detachment that would have been
incredible to her a few years before, "I have only a little while
to live, and none of this is very important."  Even sparing
Virginius and the children did not seem to her any longer to matter
supremely.  Sparing them was a confirmed habit, and like all other
confirmed habits, it was easier to obey than to break.  But, while
the slow minutes ticked away from her, she told herself that the
whole century in which she had lived and suffered and believed in
unimportant ideals, was scarcely more than a ripple in the current
of being.  "Scarcely more than a ripple," she repeated, "and yet we
make so much needless trouble about letting it pass.  Think of all
the blood sacrifices that have been made to unimportant ideals.
Even now I am brave enough to think these things merely because I
am at the end, and I can see that it all really matters so little.
It isn't worthy the effort to cover oneself with the shreds and
tatters of what we used to call duty . . ."

With this august term in her mind, her glance sprang back to poor
Aunt Agatha; for poor Aunt Agatha was an impressive example, she
felt, of what an urgent sense of duty may accomplish.

"Women don't repent like that to-day," Victoria thought, watching
her with a shudder of compassion.  "I suppose there is too much
else for them to do."  And she asked herself if such expiation
would have been possible even in the sedate 'seventies if the
picture theatres had been invented, to say nothing of the still
more demoralizing radio, which one could enjoy even in the enforced
privacy of a refuge for Magdalens.  For a machine age seemed to her
to encourage remorse almost as indifferently as it cherished
virtue; and it was useless to deny, she sighed, with a singular
lack of concern, that the grand manner had departed from seduction
as from everything else.  Even that last obligation of honour,
which had impelled an erring woman to screen her betrayer, had been
demolished in Queenborough by Mrs. Dalrymple's completely
articulate scandal.

With this thought in her mind, she remarked considerately, "You
must not let us make you late for your picture, Aunt Agatha.
Everyone says this new film is well worth seeing."

Aunt Agatha, who laughed at moving pictures but never smiled at a
man, raised her drooping lids for an instant.  "If you will excuse
me, my dear, I shall not wait for dessert."

"Of course you must not wait, but are you going alone?  I am sorry
we can't lend you the car."

A flush as pale as the glimmer of reflected shame stole over Aunt
Agatha's face.  "I like to go alone," she responded slowly, as if
she were afraid of giving offence.  Then, lowering her tone to a
still softer note, she added, "but I met Amy Dalrymple in the
street this morning, and she offered to drive me.  I suppose it is
quite safe.  She drove an ambulance in the war."

"Yes, I know."  The faintest chill hardened Victoria's voice.  Just
by nature, she had often regretted that she had never been able to
like Mrs. Dalrymple, that she had never been able really to trust
her.  Besides, merely to compare her with poor Aunt Agatha would
prove beyond a doubt that the younger woman had never sincerely
repented.  Repentance, after all, was the chief thing to consider;
and Victoria had seen enough of fallen women on the stage, as well
as in the Home for Unfortunates, to convince her that the first and
longest step in repentance is the one that leads to the wiping away
of every trace of make-up.  No woman so well dressed and so
skilfully repaired as Mrs. Dalrymple could ever, in Victoria's
opinion, have endured the withering fires of remorse.  "I helped
her as long as I could," she reflected, "and I should have tried to
do it still if Virginius had not become so blindly prejudiced in
her favour."

Still hovering beside her chair, poor Aunt Agatha appeared to
flicker out like a shadow in firelight, while Mary Victoria
remarked crisply:  "I didn't know Mrs. Dalrymple had come back from
Paris.  She was quite a toast in the war.  All the French generals
lost their hearts to her."  Then lowering her voice, she added:
"Her war record was splendid, but she spoiled it all by her
imprudent conduct after the Armistice."

"She said business brought her home," Aunt Agatha murmured.  "As
soon as she has straightened out her affairs she expects to

"I am sure she would find it more congenial abroad," Victoria
observed kindly enough.  "I don't see how she could ever be happy
in Queenborough."

"Is anybody happy here?" Martin asked so suddenly that they started
and looked at him in astonishment.

Though his manner was more capricious that rude, he spoke as if he
expected an answer; and Victoria told herself that such a question
should not have come from any Virginian who had so little reason to
be satisfied with his progenitors.  The truth was that, after two
weeks of earnest but futile effort to be indulgent to her son-in-
law, she was ready to confess that he was beginning to wear on her
nerves and that Mary Victoria's infatuation became more
incomprehensible to her every day that she lived.

"We have always been very happy," she answered mildly, but with the
faintest accent of reprimand in her tone.  Then her face softened,
and she turned with a caressing manner to poor Aunt Agatha.  "You
must not let Mrs. Dalrymple impose on you, Aunt Agatha.  I would
rather not say anything against her, but she has always been rather
a pushing person."

Aunt Agatha's thin throat worked convulsively beneath the wide band
of black grosgrain ribbon, which was considered more suitable in
her peculiar situation than the ornamental velvet stripe of the
honest but elderly.  "I am sure she doesn't mean to be pushing,
Victoria.  She has a hearty manner, and she doesn't seem able, even
with her past, to keep from enjoying life.  But I really think she
felt sorry for me and was trying to be kind."

The slightest quiver crossed Victoria's features.  Only the husk of
her mind was speaking, she knew, only the inherited covering of
tradition and precept.  Deep within the core of her soul remained
unconcerned and remote and faintly ironical.  "I am sure I don't
think you need her sympathy, dear Aunt Agatha.  Surely she should
have waited, don't you think, for the first advance to come from

To Mrs. Littlepage's distress, Aunt Agatha's reply was more than
sad, it was almost bitter.  "I suppose it didn't occur to her that
she could harm my reputation."  This, unhappily, was one of the
unforeseen results of the new psychology.  Before the broadening of
religious views and loosening of moral standards, poor Aunt Agatha
would never have allowed bitterness to enter her thoughts.  "She
stays out later, too," Victoria mused sadly.  "She spends entirely
too much time at soda-fountains.  Besides spoiling her digestion,
it makes her appear frivolous."

Well, there was nothing she could do about it except proffer a
tactful and delicate warning.  If sixty-five wasn't a safe age,
especially after so dangerous a past, then there was little hope
that years would yield greater security.

"Don't you think, my dear," Virginius broke in, with a tinge of
asperity in his level voice, "don't you think, my dear, that we may
leave Aunt Agatha free to choose her own associates?"

"My advice was kindly meant, Virginius," Victoria replied in a hurt
tone; for she knew that his asperity would have wounded her feeling
if she had not been separated from him by that inward isolation.

In the pause that followed, Mary Victoria remarked soothingly:  "I
think mother is right to warn Aunt Agatha not to allow unworthy
persons to impose upon her good nature."

"But who is imposing upon Aunt Agatha, my dear?" Mr. Littlepage
inquired in the tone of judicial authority.

"Didn't you hear what she said of Mrs. Dalrymple, father?"

"I heard, my dear, but why should you be so ready to assume that
Mrs. Dalrymple is unworthy?"

At this Mary Victoria stared at him.  "Why, I thought it all
happened, at least in the beginning, in Queenborough."

Mr. Littlepage frowned.  "It is true that she made a most
unfortunate marriage in her youth," he replied, while the advocate
usurped the place of the judge in his manner.

"Didn't her husband divorce her?"

"Why, yes."  He could scarcely deny this in the presence of
Victoria's exact memory.  "But, after all, that was as far back as
the end of the century.  She married again, and very well, after

"If it were only that!" sighed Mary Victoria, and continued with
shining eyes and a lovely colour.  "If there had been nothing else,
we could have forgotten that because of her wonderful war record.
But she has really been most imprudent in the last few years.  Even
in Europe she has become quite notorious, and it takes a good deal
to make anyone notorious in Europe."

"Yes, my dear, I suppose it does," Virginius assented.  An
unnatural flush was spreading over his face, and Victoria tried not
to observe that the purplish colour made his features appear
swollen.  "He ought to be careful," she thought, with wifely
solicitude.  "So many men of his age and build die of apoplexy."
With this danger in mind, she lowered her voice to a note of
admonishing tenderness.  "Aren't you being a little imprudent in
your diet to-day, Virginius?  The doctor advised you to eat very
lightly after that last attack.'"

Though Virginius made no direct reply to her warning, his
expression was overcast by one of those sullen moods that she had
learned to dread without understanding.  "I think I'll have a glass
of sherry," was his only remark, and this was flung carelessly over
his shoulder to Randall, who was removing the bottle of

"Give mother a thimbleful.  She looks as if she needed it," Duncan
said hastily, and while the words rang in her drumming ears,
Victoria remembered that he was the only one of the family who
ever noticed whether she looked well or ill.  "With all his
peculiarities, I believe he cares more for me than the others," she
found herself thinking, while she raised the glass of sherry to her
blue and trembling lips.

Then suddenly, without warning, that luminous veil dropped again
between her and life.  Time flowed round her and beyond her into an
unconquerable vastness, and she knew that whatever happened or did
not happen would not deeply concern her.  Nothing was supremely
important, least of all the intricate complications of human
affairs.  "If only this soundless tumult would end," she thought,
with weary resignation, "and leave me at peace."


A fortnight later, when Mrs. Littlepage was ready to admit that,
however hard she tried, she could never really like her son-in-law,
and to look forward with satisfaction to the day when they should
discover the small but perfect house for which they were looking,
Mary Victoria came to her unexpectedly one afternoon.

"Mother dear, would you and father mind very much if we stayed with
you awhile longer?"

"Mind, darling?"

"I told Martin I was sure you would be glad to have us; but he
insists we ought to move the first of the year."

"Not if you are satisfied, my child.  Not if you are both

"How could we help being comfortable?  After all those hard years
abroad, I said to Martin this morning, it is like being in Heaven.
Can't you see how he improves every day?"

"I do think he looks better."

"And he is getting on very well with his work.  Think how much it
means to him to have a safe place in Cousin Daniel's bank."

"Of course, it isn't really Daniel's bank, dearest.  He is only the
president.  It does seem a good thing; but you must remember that
the bank, like your father's law firm, employs a number of
presentable young men who appear not to have any future.  I think
that every time I go down there."

"Well, anyway, it is only a start, and it is a nice place to be in,
even if the salary is small.  Then you and father are always so
good about helping us.  You are really growing fond of Martin,
aren't you, mother?"

"Really, dear!"  Though Mrs. Littlepage met her daughter's gaze
without flinching, she felt a rheumatic twinge in her conscience,
which seemed to her to have grown stiffer and more decrepit.  For,
being of an inelastic habit of mind and body, she had, until the
last few weeks, found honesty easier than dissimulation, and now,
whenever necessity compelled her to lie, she rose to the occasion
with more gallantry than grace.

"He is the kind of man who grows on you," Mary Victoria said
proudly.  "The better you know him, the fonder you will be of him."

"Well, that's good, dear.  It is wiser not to reveal everything in
the beginning."  Surely Mary Victoria must know her husband better
than anyone else could--unless you considered that unfortunate girl
who had known him entirely too well.  Yet, in spite of this
consoling reminder, Mrs. Littlepage found herself wondering again
how love had ever attained its proverbial reputation for wisdom.
Surely, she repeated emphatically, Mary Victoria ought to know her
own husband--but did she?  Hadn't she been blinded from the
beginning by the flames of that ungovernable and disastrous
passion?  Nothing, indeed, in the fifty-five years of her life, had
astonished Mrs. Littlepage more than the completeness of Mary
Victoria's infatuation.  "I wonder if it can possibly last?" she
thought, with mild disapproval.  "He is not worthy of it--but then
you never can tell about love."

Serene, conquering, Mary Victoria turned her lovely auburn head and
raised her eyes, which were as shallow and as transparent as
sunlight, to the stainless blue of the sky above the bared maples.
Candour, sincerity, resourcefulness were in her smile and her
voice.  "He is trying so hard to be everything I wish," she said,
with the imperious manner which had never failed, at least in the
Balkans, to overcome every masculine obstacle.  "He is doing his
best to live up to my ideals."

"I am sure he is, dear," her mother assented warmly; and feeling
that something more than agreement was expected of her, she
hastened to remark, "After all, there is no end to the influence of
a good woman--"

"And you can see that I influence him, mother?"

"A blind man could see that, my child.  He simply adores you."

"If you think that now, I wish you could have seen how dependent
upon me he was in Paris and afterward in the Balkans.  In the first
months he would follow me about as if he were afraid I should
vanish as soon as I got out of his sight.  It was only when I was
with him, he used to say, that he could keep his head out of the
darkness.  As soon as I went away that black depression would close
over him."

"He must have been in a bad way when you met him."

"It was terrible."  She lowered her flutelike tones and shuddered,
as if the recollection were too much for her composure.  "He had
been tempted so often to make away with himself."

"But why, dear?"  It was Mrs. Littlepage's turn to shudder; and she
did so, in spite of her conviction that God knew what was best for
the world, and acted accordingly.  Yet, conceding this hopeful
faith, she could not dismiss the thought that, with all the moral
endurance required to make marriage successful, a man who had
wished to kill himself, even in France, could scarcely be expected
to stand the wear and tear of family life.

"Oh, you cannot imagine all that he went through, mother.  It would
have wrung your heart to look at him when I first met him.  He was
in a hospital, and he had been suffering for six months from a
nervous collapse.  The truth is that he had starved himself after
he went back to Paris.  He knew a number of young Americans who
were living there in a shiftless way, without any serious purpose,
and he tried to drift on just as the others did.  But he isn't
strong, and he couldn't live without sufficient food and clothes to
keep warm.  In the end that kind of life brought back the trouble
he had had after the war--"

"And then you met him?"

"Then I got father's letter, and I started immediately to look for
him.  Oh, I can never be too thankful!  It makes you believe that
God really takes care of you."

"Poor fellow!  He must have suffered," her mother murmured almost

"He went through hell, mother, before I found him.  That was what
he told me in the hospital.  'I've been in hell,' he said to me,
'and you look as if the heavens had opened and let you out.'  All
the next few days I couldn't get the thought of his face out of my
mind.  He has a poetic face, hasn't he, mother?"

Again Mrs. Littlepage assented.  "Yes, he has a most interesting
face.  Suffering has refined without disfiguring him.  That is one
of the advantages that men have over women.  Trouble is becoming to

"There is something about the way his hair sweeps back from his
forehead that reminds me of Shelley--or, perhaps, it is Keats."

"I am not sure," her mother rejoined vaguely, "neither face is
quite clear in my mind."

"And his eyes are remarkable."

"Quite remarkable," Mrs. Littlepage echoed, for an echo, she felt,
was all that was left of her usual explicitness.

"I forgot to tell you how I was able to find him.  It was through
Henry Peyton, who had known him in the army, and had kept in touch
with him because they were both from the same place.  They moved in
different circles here," she added frankly, "but you can't begin to
realize, until you have lived in Europe, how little American social
distinctions amount to over there."

Another murmur and a weaker one was Mrs. Littlepage's only

"It was touching to see how grateful Martin was for everything I
said or did," Mary Victoria continued in the same fluent whisper.
"Do you know that I was the first really good woman who ever came
into his life?  Of course, I don't mean his mother," she hastened
to explain.  "His mother must have been good and very unselfish--
but she wasn't a strong character."

"Yes, dear, I understand."

"Then this girl father wrote me about--She wasn't at all the right
kind of girl, mother."

"I suppose not, my child.  But you must remember that standards are
very different now from what they used to be.  It looks, indeed, as
if we were living in an age without a middle way.  While one
extreme is trying so unselfishly to make the world better, the
other is bent on throwing every moral restraint to the winds."

"But that doesn't explain father."

"Well, you know how men are about women, my dear."

"She seems to have made him think that black is white.  Have you
ever seen her?"

"Occasionally in the office, and several times when she was ill
during the war.  She is very attractive-looking without being
really beautiful.  I wished to help her, of course, but I thought
it unwise of your father to keep her in his office."

"Even now he won't let her go.  Don't you feel that she is a
designing person, mother?"

Mrs. Littlepage sighed.  "It is all beyond me, my child."

"I cannot tell you what a shock it was to me when I found out the
truth," Mary Victoria said sadly.  "Father would never have told me
who she was.  I should never have known the truth if you had not
written to warn me against Martin."

"I acted upon impulse.  Never for an instant had I suspected that
there was anything between you and Martin.  How could I have known
when you were so careful not to mention him in your letters?"  Mrs.
Littlepage's voice dropped reproachfully.  "And I thought I had
your confidence."

"Oh, you had, mother darling!  But wasn't it simply hopeless to try
to explain?  How could you ever have understood until you had seen
him?"  Rising, she glanced at the clock.  "I have just time to
change my dress before I call for him."

"Would you like my car?  I do not feel able to go out."

"No, I'd rather drive myself; but I'm so sorry, mother dearest.
Shall I tuck you in on the couch?"

"In a minute, dear.  Perhaps you might stop for your father on your
way home."

A troubled frown gathered on Mary Victoria's smooth forehead.  "If
you wish it, I will, of course, but I've almost a nervous dread of
going to father's office.  I never know when I may run across that

"Yes, that is disagreeable."  Mrs. Littlepage's voice sounded
tired and listless.  If only there were not so many needless
complications in life!  "Of course we mustn't interfere with her
earning a living," she protested gently.

"Oh, I never meant that, mother!"  Mary Victoria flushed as she
always did when there was the faintest suggestion of criticism.
"Only it does seem that she might as well earn her living as
secretary to some other man.  Have you ever put it to him this

"Yes, once, as soon as you came home.  I felt that the situation
was painful to us all, and I asked him if he couldn't find a place
for Milly Burden with some other man of fine character.  He seemed
to think, however, that she was useful to him, and that he should
miss her if he sent her away.  Besides, he has a fixed idea that he
is largely to blame."

"To blame?"  The word was a cry.  "Why, mother, he knows the

"Yes, he knows, and that, he says, fixes the responsibility.  He
feels that if he had not interfered in the Burden girl's life, you
would never have married Martin."

"He didn't understand.  He was trying to help her."

"It is useless, my dear, to try to follow the workings of a man's
mind.  He insists that his trying to help her has given him an
incurable distaste for interfering in people's lives."

"But a girl like that, mother.  You told me yourself that she never
showed any signs of regret."

"I know that, Mary Victoria, and I know also that it is hopeless to
argue with a man after he has formed an opinion.  I doubt if your
father is more set in his ideas than other men, but I have long ago
ceased to try to change his point of view about anything.  After
all that has happened, he insists that Milly Burden is a good

"Good, mother, how can he?  As if Martin--"

"Don't ask me, my child, for I cannot answer."

"No woman would call her good," Mary Victoria insisted.

"And no man either, my dear, if she were his wife or his sister.
It is her not being related to him or requiring anything of him
that enables him to take that view of her conduct."

"But father of all men!  Why, I always thought--Are you tired,
mother?  You are looking so pale."

"Just a little.  I'll lie down now until it is time to dress.  My
heart has been giving me trouble ever since that attack of
pneumonia.  Will you let me have a little more air?"

"Oh, I am so sorry!  Let me wrap you up before I go."

After she had settled her on the deep couch in front of the log
fire, Mary Victoria tucked in the rose-coloured coverlet, pressed a
kiss on her mother's cheek, and went over to the open window.
"Shall I close the blinds?"

"No, I like the light."  Her voice was scarcely more than a quaver.
"I like light and air."

"Is there anything more I can do for you?"

"Nothing, dearest."  The soundless and invisible tumult was
swelling about her.  "Rest is all that I need."

"Then try to take a little nap.  I'll tell Luella to look in every
now and then and see that you are all right.  Don't think of
stirring until I bring father home."

Her confident step crossed the room; the door quietly opened and
shut; and Mrs. Littlepage drew a breath of relief while she closed
her eyes and sank down in the soft cushions under the warm rose-
coloured coverlet.

Yes, Mary Victoria was more inspiring than restful.  "Much as I
love her, she always leaves me exhausted."  Or was it that
everything left her exhausted?  Every discussion, even the
simplest, like this motherly talk, left her tremulous and unstrung,
with her soul and body gasping for air.  Before that severe
illness, she had been able to take a hopeful view of the most
discouraging prospect and to quiet her thoughts by slowly repeating
magic formula.  But of late, in the last few months, even her magic
formula had failed of its efficacy.  And outwardly, too, she was
worn.  Lines were in her face that had not been there last year.
Greyish smoke was stealing over his chestnut hair; and it had
become an effort to weave the old animation in and out of her
words.  For all things moving on earth, nothing seemed to her now
to matter so little as words.  They were unreal; they were as
insubstantial as shadows; they came between one and life.  Closing
her eyes to the sunshine, which quivered in from the window, she
asked herself why the importance of living had flattened out as
suddenly as a pricked balloon?  "A few months ago I thought I had a
full life," she meditated, "and now I seem to have nothing.  Does
everything resolve itself into the running down of physical energy?
If only I were not so tired, I might care more," she thought, "but
I have ceased to care, that is the trouble.  I have ceased to feel
that anything matters. . . ."  Time and space slipped away from
her.  Like a pale cloud, she felt them unwinding about her; she
felt them dissolving and evaporating in a mist of light through the
window and beyond into the transcendent blue of the sky.  Marriage
had dropped from her, too, with all the years and the crowd of
withered husks she had once considered so vital.  Her heart was
throbbing with tenderness; but it was the tenderness of the past,
not the present, and she realized suddenly that the loves which had
stayed by her, even when she was unaware of their nearness, were
the loves of her childhood.  "Is it true that love is outside of
time?" she asked, amazed and delighted.  "Is it true that life
passes, but the spirit of life is immortal? . . ."  She was no
longer middle-aged; she was no longer worn and discarded by time.
Smothered in the rich darkness of memory, she was swept away by a
sensation of lightness, by a torrent of ecstasy.  "Why, I am a
child," she exclaimed aloud.  "I am not really old.  It is all a
dream, and I have never been anything but a child.  It is absurd to
think that I could live if I lost mother.  If I lost mother and
Rollo, there wouldn't be any life."  She saw, through this rich
darkness, the glimmering outline of her mother's head against the
pale sunshine beyond the window.  On her hand, hanging down from
the couch, she felt the moist nose of Rollo, her spaniel.  "Oh, I
could never love anyone more than Rollo," she thought, "more than
mother and Rollo.  But I have never lost them.  They have always
been here.  It is only time that has gone on and left us . . ."

She was still dreaming, still submerged in that glimmering
darkness, when the sound of a laugh in the street came dancing in
like a shower of golden motes in the sunlight.  So liquid, so
vital, so joyous, was this melody that it awakened everything in
the room to life, even the inanimate objects, even the chairs, the
mirror, the pictures, the bowl of white and golden chrysanthemums.
"There are some people so alive that it hurts," Mrs. Littlepage
sighed wearily, opening her eyes.  "Nobody but Mrs. Dalrymple would
laugh like that in the street!"  The laugh rippled and stopped and
rippled again.  Flinging the robe aside, Victoria started up and
crossed the floor to the window.  Outside there was the long,
straight street filled with violet-blue shadows and the troubled
sunshine of autumn.  Shadows, dust, emptiness, and overhead the
apricot-coloured light in the sky laced with the slender branches
of trees.

In the first glance this was all that she saw.  Then, as if some
crystal globe of vision were suddenly shattered, there emerged out
of nowhere the familiar red hat and amber hair and vague artificial
lustre of Mrs. Dalrymple.  Beside the curb the smart grey motor was
standing; and on the pavement Aunt Agatha had paused for a last
glimpse of her friend.  "Why, she is with her again!" Victoria
thought in surprise.  "I believe they go to every moving picture
together.  Divorced for immorality," she added, as indifferently as
if Mrs. Dalrymple were one of the imprudent ladies who make
interesting history, "and not a day under fifty.  Yet still golden,
still gay and defiant, and still able to have her laugh at the
world."  Well, she also had her quality.  Everyone praised her
character in war, if not in peace, and surely a war record was
something which no one (least of all Victoria, who had cut, hemmed,
stitched, rolled, knitted, smiled persistently, and eaten
sparingly, throughout the conflict) could wish to disparage.
"Only," Mrs. Littlepage concluded, disturbed but still benevolent,
"I thought that cooing had gone out of fashion even in the

They had parted now.  Aunt Agatha had turned away, grasping her
black skirt, the long and proper skirt of repentance, and Mrs.
Dalrymple had lowered her daring head and grasped the wheel in her
large and capable hands.  Then, just as she was about to drive on,
her name was called in a genial voice, and Mr. Littlepage appeared
on the opposite side of the street.

"He must have walked up," Victoria thought quickly, "but why, why?"

Very gallantly Virginius was lifting his hat to Mrs. Dalrymple.
Very gallantly, like a man who feels young but remembers that he is
a Southern gentleman, he was crossing the street in that faint
sunshine, which cast a deceptively slender shadow behind him.  "How
well he looks," his wife said to herself; "how well he retains his
youth.  I am glad he walked up.  The exercise has brought a glow to
his face."

For an instant he stood there beside the car, looking steadily at
Mrs. Dalrymple, who looked as steadily, and even more alluringly,
at him.  Then something--was it a glance, a word, a sigh, a smile,
or even a coo?--flitted between them.  Something so soft, Victoria
observed, more amused than startled, that it melted to air in a
breath and was lost in the stillness.

"I must ask him what it was," she murmured, turning away as she saw
her husband enter the gate.  "Some men, I suppose, might still find
her attractive, but Virginius is different."


Early in December, perfect candour demolished the glassy reserve of
Southern tradition.

"You understand, mother dear," Mary Victoria began, "why I wish to
be near you at this time?"

"I suspected, my child."

"I was mistaken once, so I waited to be quite sure.  But I feel
almost too well to believe it is true.  Not even for a minute has
there been the faintest discomfort."

"My darling, I am so thankful!"  Even in the burst of emotion, Mrs.
Littlepage found herself recalling an old wives' superstition of
her youth.  "But she must not feel too well, poor dear.  An easy
beginning," they used to say, "makes a hard ending."  Clasping her
daughter in her arms, she told herself that now, if ever, was the
moment for complete sympathy.

"Then you do understand, mother?"  Was it the composed voice or the
gentle withdrawal that made Mrs. Littlepage turn away, wiping her
eyes, and look out of the window?  Why, she wondered, should she
expect this discovery to change the nature of Mary Victoria?

"I understand," she answered, as soon as she could command her
voice.  "There isn't any place for you but our house.  I could not
bear it if I were not able to watch over you."

"But you need watching over, too, mother.  You have not been a bit
like yourself.  There are times when you seem so far away that I
wonder what you are thinking about."

"About nothing, probably, my child.  I suppose it is because I am
not so strong as I used to be; and I do feel sometimes that
everything is too much."

"Isn't there any rest for you?  Father would take you to Florida?"

"Oh, no, not Florida.  I couldn't stand Florida."  That senseless
irritation again, and the exhausting effort to keep it out of her
voice.  Why was it that everything, even kindness, irritated her
nerves?  "It is just as if I were listening for some familiar voice
in the midst of a tempest," she thought, "and every needless word
that is uttered makes it the more difficult for me to hear

"It is so important for you to take care of yourself, mother."

Mrs. Littlepage turned a pensive smile on her daughter.  Then a
quiver of nervous exasperation drove a smile from her lips.  "Don't
worry about me, my child," she remonstrated in a tone more
impatient than she had ever used to Mary Victoria.  "It isn't
really important enough.  All I need is time to collect myself.
But, of course, I must watch over you as long as I live.  After I
am dead, I hope you will feel that you can turn to Louisa--"

"Oh, mother, darling, don't talk about dying!"

"Never again, dear, only I wanted to tell you that Louisa is almost
a second mother to you.  And remember this is your home, too.
Don't think another minute about finding a house."

"I told Martin you would feel that way."

"Of course, he understood."

Mary Victoria sighed softly, with the infinite patience that is the
essence of wifehood.  "Yes, he understands, but he has been longing
to be in our home.  Not that he doesn't enjoy being here, but you
know how men are."

"Surely he must realize--" Mrs. Littlepage began, and broke off
because she could think of nothing to add.  For Martin, she told
herself, was the last person who should have suggested that a
change might be desirable.  Certainly, if anyone had been made
uncomfortable, it was Virginius, who so heartily disliked his son-

Sighing audibly, she turned to the couch, and drew the rose-
coloured robe over her bosom, which, in spite of thirty-one years
of wedlock, had remained virgin in sentiment.  Though she had been
a perfect wife to Virginius, there were moments when she
acknowledged that in her heart of hearts she had never really liked
men.  She was fond of Virginius; she was faithful; she was tender
in affliction; yet she had never, except for the few months of
courtship, enjoyed him as naturally as she enjoyed Louisa.  For
more than fifty years Louisa had understood her more absolutely
than any man can understand the woman he loves.  Beautiful as this
long association had been, it was fortunate, Victoria reflected
now, that it had come to flower before the serpent of Freudian
psychology had poisoned the sinless Eden of friendship.  With
Virginius she breathed thankfully, life, on the whole, had been
easy.  Marriage, it is true, had been to her less a pleasure than
an agreeable duty; but Virginius, since he had been born without a
lower nature, was easily satisfied.  "I did the best I could," she
thought, and immediately there flashed across her mind the eternal
wonder if, in other circumstances, with another love, life would
not have been different?  Even now, from some vast loneliness, she
felt the spreading wings of her dream, of that desire beneath all
other desires which is inarticulate and everlasting.  Closing her
eyes to the wistful December day, she heard that far-off thundering
gallop of flight.  "I am really a sentimentalist," she murmured to
herself, "and I suppose sentimentality will die with me.  But it
doesn't matter so long as Virginius has been happy.  Men are made
that way," she added the more tenderly because she had never really
liked them.  "They are made that way, unobservant, complacent,
easily satisfied."

Startled out of her reverie, she awoke, across an immeasurable
distance, to the level tones of Mary Victoria's voice, which seemed
to her as thin and meaningless as a whistling noise in the street.

"I wish, mother, you would speak to Martin."

"Speak to him?"  With a dazed mind, Mrs. Littlepage reflected that
she was unequal not only to life, but to marriage.

"Tell him, I mean, that it is best for us to stay on until after my
baby comes.  I really believe that you have more influence over him
than I have.  There are times," Mary Victoria concluded, with a
break in her calm voice, "when I think that my opinion means less
to him than anyone's."

Mrs. Littlepage shook her head.  "That isn't true, dear.  Every
wife feels that way, but it isn't true."

One of Mary Victoria's most endearing traits was that she never
stooped to an argument.  "You will speak to him, won't you,
mother?" was her only reply.

"If you wish it, dear, of course I will speak to him.  But I have
never felt that he liked me."

"Oh, mother, he admires you greatly.  It may be"--her tone was hurt--
"because you have never tried to conceal your dislike for him."

"But, my dear, you are mistaken."

"Oh, no, you do really and truly dislike him, and instead of making
him hate you, as it would me, it has only given him a respect for
your opinion.  I shall never," she declared in a tone that was
almost hysterical, "even pretend to understand men!"

"Well, I'll speak to him," Mrs. Littlepage promised, feeling that
it was better to humour than to contradict a woman in Mary
Victoria's condition.  All her life, it seemed to her, she had been
speaking to people for their good; all her life she had been trying
to make the world better; all her life, in the words of her
mother's chosen epitaph, she had done the best that she could.
But, in the last few months, since this spiritual apathy had
pervaded her being, she had become indifferent alike to public
welfare and private reform.  Flying beyond Mary Victoria, her gaze
fluttered over the window-sill and sank down, like a tired bird, in
the golden dust of the sunset.  "Yes, I'll speak to him," she
repeated.  Nothing was worth to her now the protracted pang of a
struggle with destiny.  "Of course," she continued after a pause,
"he wouldn't be so selfish as to try to take you away."  But she
was thinking, "How can he help being selfish when he has never
thought of anyone in his life?"

"Aren't all men selfish, mother?" asked Mary Victoria.

Mrs. Littlepage felt her gaze flutter back with trembling wings
from the afterglow.  "Most men are selfish when they are in love,"
she answered slowly.

"Oh, I don't mean only when they are in love, but even when they
are not in love.  Don't they always think first of themselves?"
Her voice quivered to a flutelike pitch, and a flush of resentment
stained the pearly texture of her forehead.

"Not your father, my dear.  Your father has never considered
himself; but, you must remember, there are few men to compare with

"But even father doesn't always think of his family.  If only he
could realize how unhappy he makes me about that woman--"  Her
perfect equilibrium was shattered as if by a sudden blow, and she
burst into tears.

"My dear, my dear--" Mrs. Littlepage murmured, and felt that her
tone was wanting in sympathy.  "You oughtn't to say that, Mary
Victoria," she continued, after a pause, in which she found herself
gasping for air.  "At least give him credit for generosity--for
trying to do his best in a difficult situation."

"But he makes it more difficult, mother.  Oh, why can't he see it?
He could be just as generous to somebody else."

"You can't make him see that.  After all, my child, even the most
generous men are seldom generous in exactly the ways we prefer."
She sighed, without knowing why, and gazed dreamily at the bared

For an instant Mary Victoria frowned.  Then the frown disappeared,
and she looked noble and wounded.  "I shouldn't have cared before I
married," she said, catching her proud upper lip in her perfect
teeth.  "Then I thought only of helping women to reform, and in
Europe, where I met so many people of loose morals, I never let
myself draw the line at a single one of them--not even at Mrs.
Dalrymple.  It is only since I've been married that I've begun to
feel differently."

"A wife always feels differently."

"I don't think I ever realized how strong the hold of a bad woman
can be on a man."

"No good woman ever realizes the strength of weakness until she has
tried to combat it," Mrs. Littlepage responded.  "That," she
continued, with a flash of insight, "has made it possible for women
to erect a standard of virtue.  Only upon that single principle
have they ever stood together in defence of their rights."

Mary Victoria flinched.  "Martin hates that word.  He says people,
even married people, have no rights towards each other, only

"Most men say that, my dear, except in the sacred matter of
property.  To understand all that a wife feels about marriage, I
suppose a man would have to think in terms, not of sentiment, but
of property.  When you are older, and have become a mother as well
as a wife, you will understand that men and women, even in
marriage, do not speak the same language."

"Isn't it strange how two human beings can love without

"Perhaps that is why they love," remarked her mother, with innocent
satire.  "Your uncle Marmaduke would tell you that love is a divine

"But I like to feel, mother, that I understand Martin."

"I am sure you do, darling.  As for this girl, I should simply try
to put her out of my mind.  Men get over these affairs almost
before they are begun.  Especially after they marry a good woman."

"That used to seem unfair to the other woman," Mary Victoria
murmured, "but now I see things so differently."

"Naturally you do.  You couldn't be expected to know about men
until you were married."

"No, I don't mean quite that, mother dear.  I should hate to think
that I'd grown narrow just because I'm happy."

"Isn't all happiness narrow, my child?"

"It oughtn't to be.  If I could help that girl in any way, if I
could show her how to regain her self-respect, I am sure that I
should feel it to be a duty."

"Don't let that idea enter your mind now, dear, when you need to
think only bright and cheerful thoughts.  There isn't any way you
can help her.  I asked your father about it as soon as I discovered
the truth, and he said she did not wish to be helped.  She has, it
seems, a great deal of false pride."  Though her voice carried
conviction, it seemed to Mrs. Littlepage that her mind--no,
something deeper than her mind, perhaps her soul--had become merely
a rustling vacancy.  And in this vacancy, all moral problems, even
the one of wayward women, were blown like straws in the sultry wind
of oblivion.

"They are so different to-day from what they used to be," Mary
Victoria sighed regretfully, in spite of her advanced point of

"So different, my child, that we have been obliged to change the
name of our institution because fallen women refused to enter a
Home for Unfortunates.  We have found it wiser to call it the Home
of Hope."  A spark of humour flashed from her glance and was
reflected, beneath the sadness, in her daughter's smile.

"That does sound more modern," Mary Victoria assented, "and it is
certainly more American, too."  Her lip trembled, and she added
hastily, "What worries me most is that men don't feel about women
the way they used to feel.  Especially the men who were thrown with
foreign customs"--and her mother knew that she was thinking of
Martin--"appear to take nothing seriously.  When I said something
to Martin about the sanctity of marriage, he asked me why marriage
was any more sacred than celibacy."

"He was only teasing you, dear.  I suppose it does sound funny to-

"Was father ever like that?"

Mrs. Littlepage shook her head while she tried in vain to remember
if Virginius was like that thirty-one years before.  "Your father
belongs to another age.  He was brought up to believe in the ideals
of marriage."

"Well, it is a pity that ideals have gone out of fashion.  When I
married Martin I thought that I could become a power for good in
his life.  That is what father used to call you when we were

"Yes, I remember," Mrs. Littlepage murmured; but she was asking
herself if she were really the Victoria who had once, long ago, in
some bloomless Eden of tradition, become the wife of Virginius?
Well, she had done her best to live up to what a husband of the
'nineties expected, though she had found, as she so often reminded
herself, that being an influence is very exhausting.  "The only
way," she continued, after a long silence, "is to go very slowly.
Few men are influenced for good as long as they are aware of it.
Even your father, and men were more sentimental in his generation,
did not like to know that he was being influenced."

"But I hate deception.  Oh, mother, can't we ever tell men the

"Not often, my child, and never so long as we want anything from
them.  I'd go very slowly, if I were you, especially in the matter
of forcing Martin to go to church with you."

"But it looks as if he neglected me.  Father goes with you to St.

"Naturally, my dear, he has always gone with me.  But you must not
make the mistake of judging Martin by your father."

"We've always been religious, mother, and nice people in
Queenborough go to church no matter what they believe."

"They used to, I know.  Nevertheless, I'd go slowly, my dear.  You
will be much wiser not to insist upon anything, but to make every
allowance for your husband's upbringing.  Be careful, no matter how
strongly you are tempted, not to mention this girl's name to him.
Give me a little time, and I'll see what I can do with your

Though she had assumed the burden with her usual fortitude, there
was an artificial brightness in the smile with which Mrs.
Littlepage watched Mary Victoria open the door and disappear into
the hall.  "My task is too much for me," she thought, with a
weariness that seemed to her to belong to the spirit.  "I have
tried to do my best, but my task is too much for me."  As she
lifted her eyes to the light, she was visited again by that
poignant sense of the hallucination of all mortal experience.
Ideals, duty, emotion, memory, the bare boughs, the brown earth,
the glittering sky--all these things she could look through as
clearly as if they floated before her eyes in some transparent
medium.  "It must be weakness," she said aloud.  "I have never felt
like this until now."  And then suddenly, out of nowhere,
illumination streamed into her mind.  "It wasn't so easy as they
think," she heard her voice saying above that soundless confusion
which vibrated without and within.  "It wasn't so easy as they
think; but I did the best I could."  Her thoughts, which had been
clouded and dull, were transfigured by those sunken rays from the
sky.  Spirals of golden dust quivered and vanished and quivered
again in her consciousness.  "There is something I must tell
Virginius and the children before it is too late," she added
hurriedly, rising from the couch and touching the electric lamp on
her desk.  "I must try to remember what it is; for it is very
important, and I must not die without telling them."  With her pen
in hand and the paper before her, she found that she was trembling
with eagerness.  There was, she felt, some secret of tremendous
significance to divulge--only she did not know how to begin.  What
was the meaning of it?  Why had she never thought of it until the
end of her life?  And why, having thought of it, could she find no
words that would convey what she was longing to write?  "It is
about death," she thought.  "I must tell them what I have learned
about death."  Yet what was it that she had learned?  And how could
she make them understand if she told them?  "It is the only thing
that is important, and it is the only thing that sounds cannot
express. . . ."

"December 7th, 192-" she wrote, and after a pause went on more


I have known for almost six months that I have a very short while
to live, and my one effort has been to spare you and the children,
to keep you from suspecting.  Nothing, I know, can spoil this last
perfect winter, or perhaps year, that we shall all have together.
But, before it is too late, there is something I wish to say to you--

With the pen still in her hand, she looked through the window to
the fading light and beyond into the encompassing void.  The
illumination had died down as suddenly as it had flared into her
thoughts.  Only hollowness was left now, only hollowness, where a
few minutes before that golden dust had quivered and vanished.  "It
isn't really important," she said in a whisper, "or if it is, I
have forgotten.  After all, I am too sleepy to think.  Another time
I may be able to remember what I wanted to say.  Another time, but
not now."

Laying the pen aside, she slipped the sheet of paper into a drawer,
and turned off the lamp.  Then, shivering a little, she went back
to the couch and fell asleep, under the rose-coloured blanket, in
the firelight.


The following night, when they were alone and not too sleepy after
a small dinner at Louisa Goddard's, Victoria found an occasion to
speak privately to Virginius.

"Mary Victoria is expecting to become a mother, my dear," she
began, with the slightest touch of concern.

"So soon?" Mr. Littlepage exclaimed.  "I hope she is pleased."

"She is delighted.  But it isn't so soon, Virginius.  You forget
that they were married last spring."

"Yes, it is hard to bear that in mind.  Well, better late than

Mrs. Littlepage gazed at him reproachfully.  "I wonder what has
come over you, Virginius?  You seem to grow more flippant every day
that you live."

"I am sorry, my dear.  I wasn't aware of it.  However, if Mary
Victoria is pleased, my attitude is of no consequence."

"That is just what I started to tell you.  Mary Victoria has been
worrying over your attitude.  Of course, any worry is bad for her.
An expectant mother ought to keep a cheerful outlook on life."  She
had had this phrase ready for hours, packed away in her mind as
neatly as if it were a rolled bandage.

"Certainly, I hope I have done nothing to disturb her," Mr.
Littlepage rejoined in the tone of formal apology.

While he looked at her despondently, she observed again that his
face had grown heavier and that his eyes were perplexed and
troubled, as if they were trying in vain to reach a decision.  This
was what that unfortunate marriage had done to him.  With the
thought lodged in her mind, it seemed to Mrs. Littlepage that her
whole world was revolving round a central enigma.  "I am sure I
don't know what is to be done about it," she said in a tone which
implied that she knew only too well.

"Done about what?  Are you still speaking of my attitude?"

"No, of Mary Victoria.  She isn't, I fear, quite happy, poor

"Who is, my dear?"

"Well, we are happy, Virginius, at least in our marriage," Victoria
replied patiently.  "If only the child had waited to know her own

"Well, she can hardly blame us for that.  She didn't ask our
advice, and it seems to me she has shown a decided reluctance to
hear our opinion."

"We must not think of that now.  What we must do now," Victoria
insisted sweetly but firmly, "is to help her make the best of the
situation and bring a happy child into the world."

There was an unwholesome flavour of sarcasm, she told herself
sadly, in his rejoinder, "So we are to be offered up this time to
the third generation?"  A shiver of apprehension ran through her
nerves, for she felt a presentiment that he was about to resist not
only her moral influence, but even her maternal infallibility.  The
sensation of rocking foundations, of a shifting world, attacked her
while she stood there, with her ivory hairbrush in her hand,
securely planted on the stable surface of American democracy, in
which the superiority of wives is as firmly established as the
divine right of averages.  For an instant her knees trembled, and
she was thankful for the frail support of a Heppelwhite chair.
Without a prop, either moral or physical, it seemed to her that she
must give way beneath this endless burden of sparing people, of
persuading them to do right, of being an inspiration for good.  "If
I had to do it over again, I'd consider myself more," she thought,
without bitterness.  "If I had to do it over again, I shouldn't
expect so much of life."

"I sometimes wonder if we don't defeat our ends by placing too much
stress on happiness," Virginius was saying.  "When we flash so many
searchlights upon an emotion, isn't there a danger that we shall
extinguish the glow?"

"The idea has crossed my mind," Victoria admitted, "but surely it
is natural to wish happiness for our children."

"Surely.  I was merely wondering if we were doing our best to
produce it.  Weren't the older generations happier than ours?
Certainly, they enjoyed life in a way that we have lost or

"Perhaps.  I hadn't thought of it.  But, even if that were true, we
can't step back several generations.  All we can do is to pass on
the best we have to our children.  Just now, I confess, my first
thought is for Mary Victoria.  If only I can live long enough to
see her contented--"

"Contented?" she heard her husband's slow voice repeating the word.
"Does she really expect to be contented with Martin?"

"Doesn't every woman in love expect to be contented--or happy?"

"I hope so, my dear.  But I should have imagined it would require
more than love to create such an illusion in Mary Victoria's mind."

Victoria sighed and considered.  It was incredible to her that
Virginius, who had once been orthodox in religion and an idealist
in love, should have assumed what she called in her own mind a
metallic armour of cynicism.  Was this true of Virginius alone she
wondered, or did it mean that wherever you scratched a cynic you
found a disappointed idealist?

"Don't you think you may be a little too severe?" she urged gently.
"Martin seems to us unworthy of Mary Victoria, but, after all, we
must remember that she saw him in Europe where everything is so
different.  He is attractive in his queer way, and it is natural
for every woman to believe that love, especially if it is her love,
will work a miracle in a man."

"Yes, I've given that up long ago.  I confess that I have never
understood women."

"Oh, Virginius, not your wife, not your daughter?"

"All I can see is that Mary Victoria has plunged us into an ignoble
problem, and you tell me that she did it from the highest motives."

"No, my dear, I only told you that she was not swept away by a
selfish passion.  She sincerely believed that her love would make
another man of him."

"Another man?  I understood that she had fallen in love with the
man that he is."

"Virginius!"  Mrs. Littlepage's voice was trembling with weakness.
"Do you realize that you are sneering at the most sacred feeling in
your daughter's life?"  The words, as she uttered them, seemed to
her to float across an immeasurable space, and to be spoken by some
empty husk of herself that she had discarded centuries ago.

"I am not sneering, Victoria.  I am asking questions.  What is
there sacred in Mary Victoria's mistaken belief that she can
perform miracles?"

"You don't understand these things, Virginius, but any woman would
know what I mean."

"Have patience, my dear, for I am trying to see light.  I can
understand Mary Victoria's being swept away by an infatuation; but
I fail to comprehend why it should be noble for her to imagine that
she could make a silk purse out of an ass's ear."

"You aren't often so harsh, Virginius."

"Perhaps not.  Apart from anything he has done, I confess I can't
stomach the fellow."

Again she looked at him with reproach.  Never had she found him so
invulnerable to that peaceful penetration which has proved almost
as effective in marriage as in war.  "I am not thinking of Martin,
Virginius, but of Mary Victoria.  As a mother, it is natural that I
should think first of Mary Victoria."

"I regret her marriage as much as you do.  But since she is
married, and about to become a mother, don't you think it is more
Christian to suspend judgment and hope for the best?"

"You are right, my dear," Virginius assented.  "You are right as

"Then you will do all that you can to protect Mary Victoria?"

"Naturally.  Could you think I should do otherwise?"

"No, I couldn't, Virginius."  Her weary voice rose on a triumphant
note.  "That is just what I said to her."

"Said to her?"  He had turned away to the window; but at these
disconcerting words, he wheeled round and faced her again.  All his
life, especially since his marriage, he had disliked argument when
he was in pyjamas, because, in some obscure fashion, he associated
them with unconditional surrender.

"That was exactly what I said to her when she asked me if you
realized how unhappy the thought of that other girl makes her."

He frowned.  "I suppose she means Milly Burden.  But I am not
responsible for her.  Martin is the man."

"Oh, Virginius, how can you?"

"Well, I don't mean just that.  It is too late now to speak with
any decision, and even at the right time I doubt if speaking would
have done any good.  But I can never understand the way women
appear invariably to take the side of a cad."

"Not always, Virginius.  Surely you have not forgotten my defence
of poor Aunt Agatha and even of Mrs. Dalrymple."

"Yes, I give you credit for that.  You have always been bigger than
other women, even if, as Marmaduke says, you have expanded without
shedding the husks of tradition."

"Does he say that?  It is unkind of him."  Already she was in bed,
and the linen sheet, with its embroidered design of twin doves
holding her monogram, was folded back over her bosom.  For an
instant a retort trembled upon her lips beneath the shining film of
camphor ice.  Then, remembering the weakness of her heart and the
secret martyrdom she was enduring for her family, she shook her
head while the resentment in her expression softened to pity.  "Do
you think that is quite fair of Marmaduke?" she asked plaintively.
"Have you ever doubted my willingness to befriend Milly Burden?"

"Good God, Victoria!  Do you mean you would put her into your

"No, I don't mean that.  I could find a place for her in which she
could earn her living and regain her self-respect without being a
constant cross to Mary Victoria.  The child tells me that she is
afraid to go down to your office--or to send Martin."

"There's nothing to bring her to my office, and still less, I hope,
to bring Martin."

"It is impossible to have a serious discussion when you turn
everything to ridicule."

"Who asked, my dear, for a serious discussion?  Not I."

"But how can you fail to accept your share of responsibility?
After all, you are the one who brought Mary Victoria and Martin

The clear flush in his face was stained instantly with a dark
purple, and she thought fearfully of the men of his age who had
dropped dead on the golf-course and elsewhere.  "I asked her to
look for the lover of another woman," he rejoined, almost angrily.
"I trusted her to be fair."

"You must have known, or I could have told you, that you were
taking a grave risk.  Did it never occur to you that Mary Victoria
has some peculiar power over men?  I sometimes think that her
platonic attitude only makes her attraction the more provocative.
But all the same," she insisted firmly, "I am convinced that she
would never have fallen in love with Martin had he not made her
believe that she was necessary to his salvation."  Stout and
wifely, in her chaste cambric night-gown, she watched her husband
with a dispassionate gaze.

Mr. Littlepage untied the cords of his dressing-gown and settled
himself wearily between the fragrant sheets.  "It was a pity she
ever gave up missionary work," he said, reaching for a small blue
bottle and swallowing a digestive tablet.  "In the Congo she might
have saved whole tribes without being obliged to marry a single one
of them."

"If you insist upon being frivolous, Virginius--"

"I insist upon nothing, my dear, not even upon the importance of
frivolity in marriage."

"What I am trying to tell you--"  Closing her eyes, Victoria
breathed a silent prayer for patience.  "What I am trying to tell
you is simply that Milly Burden would be much happier if she could
go away and begin life all over again."

"Well, she'd go like a shot, Victoria, if it were not for her

Mrs. Littlepage opened her eyes.  "What does her mother do?"

"According to Marmaduke and Milly the lady's vocation resembles
Mary Victoria's.  She is engaged in reforming the world."

"What kind of reform, Virginius?"

"Her speciality, like Mary Victoria's, is character, though she
differs, it seems, in confining her energy to female character."

"I could wish, Virginius, that you would choose some other subject
for flippancy.  But I wonder," she added thoughtfully, after a
pause, "if she can be the very person for whom I am looking."

"She?  Do you mean Milly?  I am positive that she is not."

"I mean her mother, of course.  Is she perfectly respectable?"

"So respectable, my dear, that Louisa is a fly-by-night beside

"I wish you would not take that tone, Virginius, when I am trying
my best to think of some way to help the situation.  Now, if you
are ready to put out the light, I will take time to consider."

The light was put out, and turning on her side, Victoria considered
long after her husband had fallen asleep.  She considered first how
dangerous a spirit of levity may become when it refused to be
controlled by religious beliefs, and secondly she reflected that
Virginius (though he made little trouble about the more improbable
articles of religion) was sadly lacking in earnest conviction.
After this, she moralized upon Mary Victoria's unfortunate
marriage, upon the infidelity and intemperance of the youth of to-
day, upon the danger of another war in the near future, upon the
general futility of the League of Nations, upon the comfort of
established beliefs, and upon the moral value of a determination to
look on the bright side and hope for the best.  And while she lay
there, in her luxurious bed, beneath the satin coverlet, which was
scented with lavender, she was aware, without surprise, that these
meditations were merely the formal patterns of inherited opinions.
Like faded petals that enclose the living heart of a flower, they
were folded round a radiant centre below the shifting surface of
consciousness.  They might wither, these clustering leaves, they
might even drop away, and yet she knew that her deeper self, her
hidden centre, would remain inviolable.  "All these things have
their uses," she thought, "but they are not really important."

And then, before falling asleep, she patiently mused upon the
inspirational needs of Mrs. Burden and the broad but specific
requirements of the House of Hope.


"Yes, this is the best, this is the only way," Victoria repeated,
as she ascended Mrs. Burden's steps the next afternoon.  While she
had walked from Juniper Hill, for with her usual sound judgment she
had decided not to drive to the door, she had rehearsed the
approaching scene, and had learned by heart the kind, but not too
kind, words that she intended to speak.  So mechanical had the
phrase become on her lips that, when she found the bell beneath
withered creepers, and Marmaduke unexpectedly opened the door, she
found herself still chanting, "I have come in the hope that I might
be of some help to you."

Cheerful, middle-aged, and still adventurous, Marmaduke glared at
her, through enormous spectacles, with eyes that made her think of
a cynical owl.  In his shabby clothes he seemed to her, while her
accurate glance counted the spots on his waistcoat, a mere bundle
of deplorable habits.  Then he removed his disfiguring glasses, and
she observed that his eyes were as bright and blue as they had been
in his youth and that the skin of his face and throat was still
fresh and ruddy.

"Well, that's kind of you, Victoria," he returned, holding the door
open with his crutch, while she passed in and stood looking up at
him in the greenish light of the hall.  "I am glad," he added in a
genial tone, "that you do not harbour resentment."

Standing at the foot of the dim stairs, she glanced round her with
an ineradicable suspicion.  "I have no resentment against you,
Marmaduke," she answered sincerely, "but my heart has been weak
since my illness last winter, and I doubt if I am equal to that
long flight of stairs.  However, I'll try," she added in a
conciliatory tone, "if you'll let me go very slowly."

"As slowly as you please, Victoria.  There won't be anybody else
using the stairs this afternoon."

"Are you alone in the house?"

"No, but I'm the only lodger at present, and Mrs. Burden and Milly
are content to be private.  The maid of all work will not come up
until she brings my dinner."

Holding her black satin skirt as decorously as fashion permitted,
Victoria climbed as far as the second floor.  Though she dreaded to
be alone with Marmaduke, she felt that urgent need of protecting
him from his own nature which she entertained in regard to every
member of the male sex.  No matter how large in person or eminent
in public virtues a man might be, she had never encountered one who
was not dependent, even when he was unaware of it, upon the
chivalry of women.  It was this chivalry that prompted her to take
advantage of any opportunity to win Marmaduke from his low ideals
and his still lower acquaintances.  "If only I could exert some
purifying influence," she thought, casting an apprehensive look
over her shoulder down the dark hall.  "If only I could make him
see the real meaning of life."  The real meaning of life!  Eagerly
she grasped the phrase.  Her mind, which was airy and spacious and
honey-combed with platitudes, was suddenly illuminated by hope.

"I wonder if you would mind going ahead," she said at last, feeling
safer with Marmaduke hobbling in front of her.  "I am obliged to
take my time on account of my heart, and you are so wonderful with
your artificial leg."  It was only natural to suspect that a man of
his character, especially when he was endowed with artistic insight
as well, would be disposed to see more than he ought to see of any

"I'm doing a portrait of Virginius now," Marmaduke said, while he
steadied himself on the stairs.  "Not a likeness, you understand,
but a study in shadows.  I wanted to catch those jolly purple
shadows in Virginius's face."

Purple shadows!  And of all unexpected corners, to look for them in
the face of Virginius!  "But there aren't any," she returned, with
her still lovely and ingenuous smile.  "I am sure if there had
been, I should have noticed them.  Virginius has always had an
unusually fine complexion."

"No, you wouldn't have seen them; but by the time I've finished
with them, you may admit that the shadows in a man's face are more
significant than anything that he says."

What an unbalanced mind!  What an ignoble vision!  It was
incomprehensible to her that any Virginian, born of the great
tradition, with an inalienable right to enjoy the best people,
should prefer to spend his time in the social backwater of
Queenborough.  With this wonder overshadowing her aversion from his
indelicacy, she rejoined in a tone of gentle rebuke:

"At least you will not deny that I know Virginius better than
anyone else could."

"Yes, Victoria, I am obliged to deny that."  Though his eyes were
laughing, his sensual lips, which always embarrassed her, as if
they were improperly exposed by his beard, had become as grave as a
philosopher's.  "I admit that you know the husband; but the husband
is very far from the beginning and the end of a man."

She looked hurt but forgiving.  "I am satisfied that he keeps
nothing from me.  The thing that I am most grateful for in my life
is that I have been able to make Virginius happy."

"Yes, you've done as much as one woman could, my dear sister."

A frown hardened her gentle features.  "Are you implying that my
husband is leading a double life, Marmaduke?"

"No, Victoria.  I am implying that, like every other man, he is
leading a quadruple one.  Four secret lives aren't too many to
allow a man when you consider the millions of predatory cells of
which he is composed."

Though she entertained only a natural dislike for Marmaduke when he
was absent, there were occasions in his presence when she
understood, as she had once confessed to Louisa, why women so
frequently murdered men.  Not that she herself, she had hastened to
explain, ever felt the slightest inclination to violence; simply
that she could understand, at such moments, why other women had
been unable to restrain their more choleric temperaments.  Out of
the depth of this comprehension, she remarked frigidly, "On the
contrary, Virginius has been always as open as the day with me."

Marmaduke shook his head with the droll gesture that had made so
much trouble for her as a bride.  "Not with those shadows,
Victoria.  His guilty secrets are written in his face for any
observant painter to read.  Come up and tell me what you think of
my portrait.  There aren't many occasions in life when a man wants
the truth from a woman, but this happens to be one of them."

How could she, how could any woman tell, Victoria asked herself,
whether Marmaduke was making fun of her intelligence or merely
preserving his reputation as a buffoon?  As she followed him up the
staircase, which seemed to her dangerously insecure, she reminded
herself that she had long ago resolved not to take him too
seriously.  Nevertheless, it was impossible to deny that the steep
climb to his studio was strewn with conjectures.  At the top of the
stairs the band of sunlight was spreading, and in the middle of the
studio Marmaduke, who had neatly whisked a decanter and a couple of
glasses out of sight, stood waiting for her.

"You've never done me so much honour before, my dear sister.  If I
had expected you, I might have arranged a more flattering

"Please don't bother, Marmaduke.  What lovely sunshine!"

Standing there, while her eyes swept his pictures, she looked in
vain for some object that she might admire without doing violence
either to her womanly instincts or her religious convictions.  Why,
she found herself wondering, did Marmaduke, and indeed so many
other modern artists, for the failing appeared to be general in
art, insist upon painting only the more unpleasant aspects of
Nature?  And apart from the mere indecency of his subjects, she
doubted, as emphatically as Virginius had done a few weeks before,
if the figures of even improper women, when they were undressed,
were really as red or purple as he painted them.  Moreover, what
was the use, she concluded triumphantly, in painting a picture or
writing a book that did not help to make the world better?"
There's Virginius over there on that easel," he waved in the
direction of the window.  "What do you make of it?"

"Make of it?"  Her reply was a wail.  "Why, that isn't Virginius.
You're painting raw flesh."

"You don't like it?"  He was obviously disappointed.  "You can't
see a likeness?"

"There isn't the remotest suggestion of Virginius.  Oh, Marmaduke,"
her vehemence ebbed in a murmur of protest.  "I can't see any good
that it serves to go on painting these things over and over.  Of
course," she continued, with simple dignity, "I don't pretend to
know much about art, but I do love beauty."  She closed her eyes as
she spoke because the brilliant sunshine clashing with these
intemperate colours gave her a sensation of giddiness.  Why had she
never suspected that so many violent shocks could be wrung out of
apparently insignificant tubes of paint?

"Do you?"  Supporting himself against the table, Marmaduke smiled
down on her as he waved a dirty remnant of black cloth in his free
hand.  "Well, that's too deep for me.  I am not a philosopher, I am
merely a painter.  All I am trying to do is to get in touch with
some form of reality."

"But do you believe that reality is obliged to be ugly?"

"I believe nothing.  I paint what I see.  If you choose to call it
ugliness instead of beauty, that isn't my fault.  You must blame it
either upon an act of God or a miscarriage of Nature."

"We were taught when I was young," Victoria remonstrated gently,
"that truth is beauty."

"I know we were, my dear sister.  That is part of our trouble."

She sighed with unresentful patience.  "But, surely, you cannot
enjoy looking at such unpleasant subjects?"

"I don't know, Victoria.  Candidly, I don't know.  I suppose it all
depends upon how much or how little you see of an object.  Most
things aren't beautiful if you look below the skin or the rind.
Human beings are certainly not, nor, for that matter, is human
nature.  On the contrary, pomegranates are beautiful even when you
cut into them; but one can scarcely go on painting pomegranates for
ever.  I'd rather, if the choice is mine, take a chance away from
sthetics to truth.  After all, it is life I am working on, not
decoration.  I am trying with every stroke to get as far away as
possible from all the smugness and priggishness we were brought up
to believe in.  For the last few days I have been trying to see
what Virginius would look like if the old Virginia gentleman were
wiped out of his face."

"But isn't the quality you call smugness and priggishness simply
what the best people everywhere think of as religion?"

"Perhaps.  That is what I am trying to find out."

"Oh, Marmaduke," she pleaded more sweetly, "what good can possibly
come from finding out what ought not to be true?"

"I cannot answer, Victoria.  I don't know anything.  It might, I
suppose, shake us out of our moral complacency."

"But," she held to her principle with more than usual tenacity,
"isn't there a chance that we may be complacent only because we
know that we are right?  After all, hasn't Christianity survived
the ages?"

His blue eyes were squinting in the sunshine, and a smile of
artless merriment puckered the carnivorous lips within the silvery
sheen of his beard.  While her delicacy shuddered away from him, he
inquired pleasantly, "Have you ever given a thought, Victoria, to
what the shape of a platitude would be if it assumed a symbolic
form?  If you were drawing one, for example, would you make it
round, oval, or square?  An oblate sphere?  Or simply a hollow
square?  No, I'm not teasing you, my dear.  I am really in earnest.
After all, you are one of the few persons I've known for whom I've
never lost my respect.  It is true that your heart is very far in
advance of your head; but when you are remembered, it will be by
the heart, not the head, of the future."

The flush of indignation faded slowly from Victoria's features.
Even her early training, which had prepared her to soothe the tired
brow and tame the predatory nature of man, had failed to anticipate
the sharper thrust of intelligence.  In her youth all that a lady
needed to learn, after she had acquired the art of smiling above a
wasp-waist, was the easier process of how to become an edifying
example.  As a bride, she had fervently longed to soothe and tame,
as well as inspire, Virginius; and though she would have died
sooner than admit the fact, the first year of her marriage might
have been less disappointing if he had magnanimously cultivated a
lower nature.  Those were the months, before Duncan was born, when
her beauty was in its angelic perfection, and Marmaduke had
facetiously compared her to Una with a lamb in a lion's skin.

As she recalled this unseemly jest, her matronly expression became
more severe, and she remarked coldly, "It is getting late,
Marmaduke, and I should like to have a few words with Mrs. Burden
before I go.  Could you ring the bell and ask if she is at home?"

He looked at her in astonishment.  "Do you mean that you wish to
see Mrs. Burden?"

"Certainly.  Why not?"

"No reason whatever.  Only it seems a strange thing to wish."

"I understand," her voice wavered, "that she is perfectly

"She is more than respectable.  She is estimable; she is an
ennobling influence."

Though Mrs. Littlepage was always suspicious of Marmaduke, his
description of Mrs. Burden impressed her as favourable rather than
otherwise.  "If she is indeed that, I am sure that she is the very
person we need.  Has she, are you aware, a particular vocation?"

"Only, I believe, for making the world better."

This again, in spite of his levity, might be considered
encouraging.  "It wouldn't surprise me," observed Victoria, who was
hopeful but contained, "if she should turn out to be the ideal

"Matron?  Of what?  Is it a Sunday school?"

"Please don't try to be funny.  We are looking for an assistant
matron for our House of Hope.  It was founded by your mother, and
used to be called, you remember, the Home for Unfortunates.  We
receive wayward girls after a first offence."

"Yes, I remember."  He looked as grave, she said to herself, with
relief, as a judge on the bench.  "But I doubt if waywardness would
have slightest attraction for Mrs. Burden.  Why don't you try Mary

"Marmaduke!"  The dark flush, which was far from becoming, stained
Victoria's smooth cheeks and melted into the even waves of hair on
her forehead.  "There are times when you forget yourself."

"Unhappily, Victoria, I forget myself less often as I grow older.
I still, however, hold by my opinion that waywardness makes a
stronger appeal to Mary Victoria than to Mrs. Burden."

"Will you oblige me, Marmaduke, by leaving Mary Victoria out of our
discussion.  Though I regret her unsuitable marriage, I can still
respect the purity of her motives.  And now, if it isn't asking too
much, will you tell me how I may find Mrs. Burden?"

"Oh, I'll find her for you, if you are determined.  But, honestly,
don't you think you have done Milly enough harm without this?"

"Harm?  Why, I am trying to help her win back her self-respect."

"She has never lost it, Victoria.  I assure you that she has as
much self-respect as you or I or Mrs. Burden could possibly help
her to attain."

"But doesn't she know that, in the eyes of the world at least, she
is a ruined woman?"

"My dear sister, she doesn't even suspect it.  As far as she is
concerned, the world might have been born amblyopic.  Whether you
realize it or not, being ruined is not a biological fact, but a
state of mind.  It may sound paradoxical to any survivor of the
nineteenth century, but Milly has proved to me that it is
impossible to ruin a woman as long as she isn't aware of it.  What
really ruined poor Aunt Agatha--yes, and Mrs. Dalrymple, too--was
not a fall from virtue, but Victorian psychology.  You--by that I
mean public opinion in Queenborough and elsewhere--were inoculated
with the Puritan virus."

She had reached the door, and after passing out into the hall, she
remarked with a composure she was far from feeling, "I refuse to
admit, Marmaduke, that moral principles are merely sports of the
ages.  No one could have pitied poor Aunt Agatha more than I; but
the severity of her punishment almost fifty years ago does not
justify us in lowering the standards of Queenborough today.  After
all, the world, even the modern world, must cling to something or
perish.  Even the extremest revolt of youth is scarcely more than a
tempest in--in--" the triteness of metaphor checked the flow of her
eloquence, and Marmaduke proffered softly:

"In a fruit-jar?"

"Yes, in a fruit-jar, if you are determined to be flippant," she
assented, with dignity.  "But, after all, you must remember that
the future of American civilization is in the hands of the mothers.
It is an affront to American motherhood to imply that it is
unfaithful to its responsibilities."

She paused abruptly with the feeling that Marmaduke had pushed her
back, politely but firmly, into the rustling void between time and
eternity.  "I am saying these things because they are the only
words that I know," she thought, "but words are not real.  Thoughts
are not real.  They are only the folded leaves of something that is
hidden within."

"I dare say you are right, Victoria," Marmaduke replied, with a
weary shrug, "and it is on this entirely appropriate note that I
should like to introduce you to Mrs. Burden."


All that bright and windy afternoon Mrs. Burden sat before her fire
and knitted one of the sad-coloured garments in which evangelical
Christianity wraps original sin.  While she knitted her lean but
active thoughts addressed the God of Genesis, and demanded some act
of divine intervention in her affairs.  For she had had, as she
eagerly testified, a mean life from the hour of her birth; and
after sixty-five years of complaining submission to the will of
God, it seemed to her more than time for God to do something about
it.  Though she was familiar with the Book of Job and the
inscrutable ways of Providence in Scripture, she still felt
that she had been punished too long and too harshly for the
transgressions of others.  Even in childhood, for she had been a
pious infant, and disposed to become an early example, she had
attended church twice every Sunday and once in the middle of every
week.  Moreover, as she had not failed to point out, this
devoutness had occurred at a stage of the world's history when
attendance upon divine service exacted a robust constitution.

At the moment, so profound was her melancholy, she would have
agreed with Mrs. Littlepage that being conventional (only she
called it "keeping respectable") was by no means so easy as loose-
living persons of the past had seemed to imagine.  It is true that
she had been blessed, among other favours, by the serenity of mind
which is the spiritual property of those who are unacquainted with
doubt.  Yet the wonder grew, as years went by, that amazing grace,
which has so sweet a sound, should appear to increase rather than
diminish the struggles of Nature.  For even she had not been spared
(though it was almost fifty years ago) the hopeless pangs of an
unfortunate love.  In April evenings, when the scent of lilacs
drifted like rain on the silver air, she had walked with a lover
among the tender whispers of the delicate green twilights.  He was
unredeemed; he was disreputable; he was a hopeless fugitive from
the Blood of the Lamb; yet she had walked with him all those April
evenings, and she had loved him in secret through the other months
of the year.  In spite of his sins, which were as scarlet, and his
circumstances, which were beggarly, she might have been faithful to
him, if only he had respected her.  Everything else, even his
poverty, she could have forgiven, if only he had respected her
virtue.  For almost half a century this thought had lodged there,
driven by that old anguish into some obscure recess of memory.  She
could have forgiven him everything else, if only he had respected
her.  Sitting there by her scant fire, with her ashen skin, her
upright old body, and her unconquerable spirit; sitting there in
her attitude of bleak resignation, she felt resentfully that,
though she bowed to the will of God, her life wouldn't bear
thinking about.  After almost fifty years (and God alone knew what
those years had meant to her), there were recollections that still
hurt her pride like the sting of a hornet.  Those warm April
evenings, when she put on her blue dress (they were wearing trains
then, and a great many flounces), and believed she was being an
ideal to an unworthy but infatuated young man.  There were curls on
her neck and an Alsatian bow in place of a bonnet, and there was
not a thought in her mind that wasn't as pure as snow and a credit
to any ideal.  Walking out in the flushed light, and thinking all
the sad and pious thoughts that came to her in the spring,
especially when it was Sunday and warmer than usual, and she was
close to an unconverted but attractive young man, who was in danger
of losing his soul.

The thoughts were in her mind when she had tripped out into the
road by the lilacs, prepared to spread the Gospel and bring
salvation to this young man, who was unworthy but loved her.  For
an instant, in the dying glow of flames, these two memories touched
and melted as shadows touch and melt into an empty embrace.  All
those ages before, in her blue dress with the flounces, wearing an
Alsatian bow on her chestnut curls, she tripped down the pale road
between white and purple cluster of lilacs.  With the purest
motives, she had walked out, suspecting no evil.  Suspecting no
evil from men, suspecting no evil from fate, trusting in God and
the institution of marriage, keeping herself, in her blue dress, as
remote as an ideal.  Through all the wind and mist of time, she
could look back and remember the warm scent of the lilacs and a
white star shining down on her pure thoughts, which were occupied
with the salvation of sinners.  Pure as a lily she had walked out;
and when they reached the first bench in the park, beneath the
great elm that was cut down a few years ago (she could never
understand, no woman could understand, how men enjoy cutting down
trees), this young man had proved that he did not respect her.
Yes, there were things in the past, there were April evenings,
there were drifting scents, there were hopes, there were
disappointments, there was love, there was bitterness, there was
outraged modesty and rejected salvation--there were all these
things in the past, and none of them would bear thinking about.
Life was like that, she supposed.  In spite of amazing grace and
being washed in the Blood of the Lamb (Milly said it was horrible
to drag blood into religion), life wouldn't bear thinking about.
For her happiness had been a mistake.  Her love had been a mistake
from the beginning, and when, years afterwards, she had married a
man who respected her, that had turned out to be an even greater
mistake.  But how could a woman know?  How could any woman know
that life wouldn't bear thinking about?  For, though he still
respected her, she had been deserted for a loose woman, after
bearing seven children and losing six of them.  He had deserted her
for a loose woman; yet he had nothing he could complain of in his
marriage except, as he had told her to her face, that his wife had
never failed in her duty.  But it was true.  He knew it when he
left her.  She had never failed in her duty.  And that also, though
people who had no sense of duty were fond of saying otherwise, had
not been easy.  Doing your duty day and night by a man who
respected you while he enjoyed loose-living women, had not been
easy.  But she had struggled on.  Deserted, she had still struggled
on and prepared her daughter for the hour of temptation.  For there
were lions in the path of all pure womanhood; and the station to
which Providence had called her (though superior in right thinking
to the profligate society that had ruined Miss Agatha Littlepage)
was infested, as the preacher proclaimed every Sunday, with
devourers of innocence.

Never, not even after forty-seven years, had she forgotten the
prayer of thanksgiving for her own escape which she had breathed
when she heard that the daughter of old General Littlepage had been
betrayed by a Southern gentleman, who moved in the best circles,
but was married already.  Married already, and therefore unable, as
well as indisposed, to make an honest woman of Miss Agatha
Littlepage.  For genteel conduct decreed that even the most
prodigal Southern gentleman is unable to make an honest woman of
more than one Southern lady at a time.  Forty-seven years ago, yet
it seemed only yesterday!  It seemed only yesterday that she had
tingled with horror and indignation and gratitude for her own
escape from the snare of the fowler.  "This came," scoffed her
father (a plain man, and proud of it), "as a punishment for round
dances and wine-bibbing and bare necks in the evening, and
neglecting to hold religious revivals in the spring of the year."
"This came," moaned her mother (a simple woman, and proud of it),
"from forgetting your modesty and failing to spurn the brazen
instincts of men."  "This came," thundered her pastor (the voice of
God, though a worm, and proud of it), "from braving divine wrath
and embracing the frivolous dogmas and the Popish ceremonies of the
Episcopal Church."  For poor Miss Agatha had stooped to folly in an
earnest age; and churches had learned politeness, if they had lost
members, since the great elm was cut down in the park.  To Mrs.
Burden, who had survived the changing morals of two generations,
and naturally took a mournful view of human affairs, there appeared
a sounder logic in the severe decorum and the iron-bound theology
of her youth.  From her humble station, thankful for a decent
obscurity, she had surveyed the higher circles of Queenborough, and
had watched the unfolding of certain notorious scandals.  Fearfully
she had watched.  Fearfully and hopefully she had watched for
divine retribution.  Miss Agatha, it is true, had been punished,
however inadequately; but Mrs. Burden could only shudder in spirit
when she recalled the ease with which Mrs. Dalrymple had safely
wriggled past the wages of sin.  But for that slipperiness (for
hadn't she lived to enjoy immorality instead of paying the penalty
for it like poor Miss Agatha?), Mrs. Burden might have kept her own
incorrigible daughter straight in the path of duty and the pious
fear of the Lord.

"I could understand it better if I had left anything undone,"
sighed Mrs. Burden.  But, search the past as diligently as she was
able, there was nothing, not so much as the merest shadow of
neglect, with which she could reproach herself.  What did it all
prove in the end, she inquired now of an inattentive Providence,
except that the severest upbringing is powerless to eradicate a
paternal strain of depravity?  Though the influence of home had
been impeccable, Milly had no sooner started to work, or so it
appeared to the morose vision of her mother, than she had rushed
into sin.  For the worst of it was, Mrs. Burden lamented over her
knitting, that she had fallen not heavily, like poor Miss Agatha,
nor even lightly, like the slippery Mrs. Dalrymple, but quite
naturally, as if it were her own private affair.  If she had been
taught evil instead of good all her life, she could not, Mrs.
Burden felt, have been ruined more easily.  If she had been taught
that life is a bed of roses, not a vale of sorrow, and that she
herself was called to be a butterfly instead of a worm, she could
not, in her mother's opinion, have flown more airily over the
bottomless pit.  And, as if her sin were not wanton enough, she had
crowned her delinquency, mused Mrs. Burden, who was partial to
dignified words, by her obstinate refusal to acknowledge her ruin
or to remain where she had fallen.  Boldly, in the most brazen
defiance of virtue, she had risen again to her feet.  "My life is
my own," she had said.  "My life is my own."  Nothing more.  That
was her answer to the mother who had brought her into the world.
"My life is my own."  If she had ever repented; if she had
confessed her guilty passion; if she had abased herself before God
and her injured mother, Mrs. Burden told herself that she should
have enjoyed lifting her up and leading her, with contrite heart,
to the throne of Grace.  But, composed, capable, defiant, Milly had
taken up her life where she had left it off, and the age had
encouraged her!  That, groaned Mrs. Burden, was the bitterest drop
in her cup of woe, the age had encouraged sin, the age had
encouraged hardness of heart.  An irreligious and licentious age
had abetted depravity.  In the sedate 'seventies a woman, even a
woman who was also, as in the case of Miss Agatha Littlepage, a
Southern lady, had known what to expect whenever she felt a
temptation to stray from the thorny path of propriety.  If anybody
doubted that to-day, Mrs. Burden reflected sadly, he had only to
take a look at what happened after Miss Agatha's fall.  Even pure
womanhood, it seemed, required stout doctrines and a heavy hand to
put the proper fear of God into its bosom; and you had only to
glance about you to realize that the world had never been so well
governed since the belief in eternal damnation had been taken away.
No matter how far-sighted you had become from age and other
infirmities (Heaven alone knew what she had suffered from sciatica,
and her joints, too, had grown so stiff that she could barely put
on her clothes or hold her knitting-needles)--but no matter how
blind you were to things near at hand, you couldn't help seeing
that sin wasn't all that it used to be.  It had always been like
that, her father used to point out, in what he called, with his
jocose manner, high society.  Perhaps it had been; you could never
tell where people would end when they went after pleasure.  Not
that she had ever bothered much with that kind of society, though
her family, for that matter, was as good as the rest of them, only
more quiet.  But she had heard things and watched, too, in her day,
and she wouldn't have been in poor Miss Agatha's shoes for all the
pride (which was false anyway) of those Littlepages.  They had even
taken her baby away from her, which was proper, of course, since it
had been conceived in sin, and nobody had ever found out what they
did with it.  Sent it out of Virginia, some people said, though
there were a few who went so far as to believe the fantastic tale
of the old cinderwoman, Aunt Methuselara, addle-pate and half
blind, who hinted darkly that she had found the body of a naked
infant at the bottom of a barrel of ashes.  Not many had credited
that coarse version, however, and Mrs. Burden, though she suspected
any enormity of people who drank mint juleps after church every
Sabbath, concluded charitably that Aunt Methuselara's half-wit must
have wholly deserted her.  But, even if you declined to go that
far, poor Miss Agatha had been punished severely enough to make her
go in fear of sin all the rest of her life.

This, to be sure, was not contending, as some people did, that the
child had been strangled the minute after it came into the world.
This was not even contending (for Mrs. Burden governed her mind)
that poor Miss Agatha ought to have gone to an asylum for mental
defectives.  Gossip of this nature had reached Mrs. Burden, but she
had never stooped to repeat it.  Still, it was useless to deny
that, even with these extreme penalties suspended, the Victorian
era was scarcely an age that one would have picked out for sinful
purposes.  Though a delicate sense of style refined the tongue, and
Mrs. Burden had never heard the word "adultery" except in the Ten
Commandments, she was perfectly aware that the American Republic
has as little use for a repentant Magdalen as it has for a king's
mistress.  Even Mrs. Dalrymple, who looked as much like a king's
mistress as if she had stepped straight out of profane history, had
been obliged to seek moral climes more congenial in profligate
Europe.  It is true that she had held her head high, and had done
her best (though not so much as Milly) to brazen out her disgrace;
but in the nineteenth century, even at the very end of it, a woman
had at least known when she was ruined.  Many times in the last
twenty years she had returned to fight the battle over again.
Always a little older, a little heavier, a little more painted, but
still beautiful in her vulgar style, she had returned to flaunt her
gilded shame in the presence of the stout matrons and lean virgins
of Queenborough.  Several times on her way home with Milly after
divine service, Mrs. Burden had beheld the flamboyant sinner
vivaciously holding her own in one of the Sunday parades from St.
Luke's Episcopal Church.  "It makes me blush to look at her," Mrs.
Burden had protested, and Milly had replied in her mocking tone,
"But she is still very handsome.  Wouldn't you rather look like her
than look at her, poor dear?"  Well, morals had crumbled with a
vengeance, there was no use denying it.  Only yesterday Mrs. Burden
had heard (though she had refused to believe it) that the Home for
Unfortunates had changed its name because it feared to wound the
pride of the wayward.  That was the home old Mrs. Littlepage (and
no wonder) had been so active in establishing.  Mrs. Burden had
been told on the best authority (though she herself knew nothing of
such places, and would never think of entering one from vulgar
curiosity) that instead of keeping lost women down on their knees,
with a scrubbing-brush and a bucket of soapsuds, the board of
visitors went so far as to supply them with many profane
amusements.  For weeks, after she had first discovered Milly's
guilt, Mrs. Burden had urged her daughter to hide her shame in some
such haven of rescue; but Milly, supported by an unprincipled age,
had relapsed into her mood of solitary defiance.  Only once had her
composure deserted her, and that was when she had braced her
courage to the point of borrowing money from her employer.
Naturally, he also had encouraged her, and with a generosity of
which Mrs. Burden suspected the worst, he had received an unmarried
mother (though the encumbrance had been providentially removed)
into what had appeared to be a respectable office.  Not only, Mrs.
Burden mused suspiciously, had he employed Milly after her trouble,
but he had even increased her salary in a situation in which women
are usually grateful for the stale bread of charity.  "She is as
capable as a man," Mr. Littlepage had explained, for that was the
way they had talked in war time.  "Any woman as capable as that
need never scrub for a living."  But was it really, sniffed Mrs.
Burden, nosing delicately into the matter, Milly's competence or
her appearance that had worked on his nature?  For, to Mrs.
Burden's constant humiliation, Milly had been born with the sort of
face that awakes evil desires in unsuitable bosoms.  Even on the
girl's plainest days (for her beauty was the kind that oozed and
died like a dark flame) she exerted, without the slightest effort
apparently, an improper influence over sober husbands and dignified
fathers.  Not that many men required such an influence, Mrs. Burden
admitted, as she remembered that April evening with the young man
who had taken a liberty.  Yet, all things considered, it was a
misfortune that her daughter was not more subdued in appearance.
For it was a hard world at best, and a woman who worked for a
living could not afford to have a face that made men think (so she
had heard one of them exclaim) of moonlight on magnolia blossoms.
Yes, she had had her trials, Mrs. Burden remarked aloud, as she
picked up her knitting, which had slipped to the floor, and not for
a million dollars would she consent to live her life over again.
She had nothing with which she could reproach herself; she had done
the best she could with her lot; but not for a million dollars in
gold would she consent to live her life over again.

Sitting there, alone and very erect, by her smothered fire, with
her head bent over the long swift needles, which moved with a
monotonous click as the grey yarn unwound from the ball and was
interlooped into stitches, it seemed to her that she was drowning
in misery.  No, not for anything that the world could give would
she live her life over again.  Yet she did not wish to die; she did
not wish to grow old and wait there, at pause with living, until
the wind whispered in the fading glow of the embers, the skein
slackened, and the knitting-needles dropped from her hands.
Already she could feel those dark dregs of age settling over her,
while the past ebbed and flowed in the room and out again into the
winter evening, into the world, into the universe.  Yet she was not
really old; she was not finished.  There was life in her bones yet,
she thought valiantly, only she had to struggle to keep on her
feet, and being respectable was not so easy as it seemed to some

But the loneliness, she thought after a moment of vacancy--the
loneliness, that was the worst of life, that was the worst of being
old and waiting for death.  Not that she was really old, when you
stopped to think of her age.  Plenty of women were still active at
sixty-five.  Plenty of women still went after pleasure, and she had
heard, though it was hard to credit this, that, since the Great
War, some of these women even went after lovers.  Well, thank
Heaven, she had no need now, she had never had an urgent need,
either of love or lovers.  Though you couldn't have made her
believe it forty-seven years ago, she was thankful now to have
finished with all that.  But she was alone too much, and she had
reached the time of life and the state of mind when conversation is
more agreeable than any form of activity.  Yes, she was alone too
much of the day, and the night also.  That was what happened, she
supposed, when you married the wrong man and were deserted but not
made a widow.  For she was deserted now all the time.  She was
lonely and neglected and rheumatic, though her life stretched back,
beneath those dark dregs of age, to a girl in a blue dress with
whom a young man had taken a liberty.  Bleak, withered, austere,
she was still a woman with whom a young man had taken a liberty.
At one end of that slackened fibre, she knitted grey yarn with
crippled fingers, and at the other end she walked with pure
thoughts in the April dusk, and a young man was taking a liberty.
What was the meaning of it all? she wondered, interlooping the grey
yarn on her knitting-needles.  What was the meaning of it?  Where
was it leading?  Two women and yet the same woman, and a single
life.  Which was her real self, the girl in a blue dress resenting
a liberty, or the old woman by the fire, who was beyond love,
beyond liberties, beyond everything but eating and drinking?  You
couldn't tell.  No woman could tell which was real, the clear past
or the dim present.  No woman, not even the oldest, could tell what
life meant.  But it was the same life, after all; it was the same
life, rippling, sparkling, or smothered there under that thick
mound of ashes.  It was the same life, and it was hers.  It was
hers, and what she learned from it was that keeping respectable was
not so easy as some people imagine--_But not for anything that the
world could give would she live her life over again . . ._


"Poor woman, she must be lonely," Mrs. Littlepage thought, as she
drifted in on that spent wave of the past which was still flooding
the room.  For the faintest sign, the barest glimpse, of misery
awakened in Victoria's bosom an ardent desire to soothe, to ease,
to comfort, and, if necessary, to convert to some higher ideal.  It
was not, as she often assured herself, that she ever wished to
meddle in another person's affairs.  But she was so constituted
that it was impossible for her to live in the world, it was
impossible even for her to sit in a room, without observing how
many objects needed to be changed and straightened and put right
before people could begin to be comfortable.  And so she thought,
seeing Mrs. Burden alone in front of the fire, which needed
replenishing, "Poor woman, I wonder what I can do for her!"  It was
this benevolent impulse, she knew, this expanding and flowering of
the maternal instinct into a vital sense of compassion, that made
persons who did not understand her (and Marmaduke, she admitted
sadly, was one of these) imagine that she was sometimes without
tact, that she was too interfering, that she was never happy except
when she was improving something or somebody.  No, it was not
really meddling; she was not always trying to manage the world, she
assured herself, while she held out her hand and said in soothing
tones, "I hope I am not disturbing you, Mrs. Burden."

Mrs. Burden, who feared loneliness and enjoyed being disturbed, put
down her knitting and struggled to her feet, with an apology for
the appearance of the room and her simple manner of living.  "When
I was young we never thought of having a servant to answer the
doorbell," she said, with a dismal smile, before she turned away to
make up the fire.

"Why, I am sure it is all very nice," Mrs. Littlepage replied
brightly, as she sat down in a rocking-chair on the opposite side
of the hearth.  "A fire looks so cosy on a frosty night.  It must
be hard," she added, glancing cheerfully round her, "to keep this
big house warm in a snow-storm."  Again she thought sadly, "Poor
soul, her life must have been dreadfully bitter.  How ashen and
withered and hopeless she looks.  It is all the more to her credit
that she has been able to hold on to her religious conviction."

Had Mrs. Burden heard her visitor's thoughts instead of her words,
she might have answered her remarks to some purpose and have told
her more about religious conviction than any member of St. Luke's
Episcopal Church was ever likely to know.  For Kesiah Agnes
Watkins, now Mrs. Burden, had been converted in the ages of faith
when conversion meant something; and her father was an intrepid
circuit-rider in the days when circuits were dangerous and riders
men of stout bone and sinew.  Yes, she was growing old (though
sixty-five is still middle-aged), and she had known what trouble
was in her life; but she could tell Mrs. Littlepage a thing or two
about religious conviction.

"I hope you manage to keep your health, Mrs. Burden."

"I've always been strong, and but for rheumatism in my joints and
that spell of sciatica last winter, I'd be as active as ever.  I've
had a mean life, if I do say it, and afflictions enough to try the
patience of Job; but I've still a few things left to be thankful

"Well, that's a beautiful way to look at your troubles.  It is so
important, I think, to remember that we have always a few things
left to be thankful for."  Victoria's cloudless gaze dimmed while
she laid a sympathetic hand on the ball of grey yarn.  Not only a
beautiful way to look at trouble, but the very vision she had tried
to cultivate in the spiritless inmates of the House of Hope.  How
often in her Wednesday talks to the wayward had she reminded her
hearers of the moral value that resides in a cheerful point of
view.  Certainly, the judgment of the ages has decided that
optimism is meritorious in nature; and where it has few facts to
support it, as in the case of saints or martyrs or minds that are
poor but honest, it appears only to acquire a miraculous virtue.
In Mrs. Burden's situation, which included poverty, ill-treatment,
and disgrace, surely to continue to look on the bright side and
hope for the best was nothing less than heroic.  "Your faith must
be a great comfort to you," she concluded aloud, and astonished
herself by thinking immediately afterwards, "but these things are
not really important.  They are only words, and words are as empty
as withered rinds."

Without moving her head, Mrs. Burden shifted in her chair,
moistened her pale dry lips, and turned her opaque eyes on her
visitor.  Since she had never, within her recollection, been
anywhere but in trouble, she was not impressed by the reminder; and
it appeared to her, when she stopped to think of it, that Mrs.
Littlepage had inaccurately defined her religion.  "I don't mean
that I've ever taken things lightly," she corrected, with a touch
of asperity.  "I know I've had a mean life, and a crooked one.
There are times when it seems to me that my whole life was cut on
the bias."  Grimly, without smiling, but with what Mrs. Littlepage
could only regard as a monumental patience, she took up her work,
and the long knitting-needles clicked while the grey yarn
interlooped in the firelight.  How indestructible she looked in
spite of her leanness!  Gaunt, grizzled, dark-browed, and as
inscrutable as a cedar-tree; yet with a humming vitality in her
branches, as if life sang in her for a moment of time before it
flew on into the whispering flames and the murmurous December
twilight.  "What an odd idea!" Mrs. Littlepage thought, with
surprise.  "I never used to think such incredible things.  The
truth is that everything has been different and nothing has seemed
real since my illness last winter."  Aloud, she replied gently,
"There are times, I suppose, when all of us feel that our lives
were cut on the bias."  Her face was beaming with sympathy, and
there was a quiver of happiness in her beautiful voice.  Sweeping
through her, and submerging all memory of the cruelties and
contradictions of life, like some blissful rhythm and change of
being, she was aware of this rising tide of compassion.  Once
again, she had found herself; once again, she was renewed,
refreshed, and replenished, at some inexhaustible source which was
deeper than thought and more real than words.

"I believe I can help you," she said softly, while a mystic joy, an
infusion of sparkling energy, permeated her consciousness,
spreading in rivulets of light, scattering a rainbow spray through
her mind and soul.  "Yes, I am sure I shall be able to help you."

"I don't know any reason on earth why I should have had so much
trouble," Mrs. Burden was repeating, in an impressive monotone.  "I
have always bowed to the will of God, even when it was past
understanding.  I have always done my duty, and I have never failed
to govern my mind properly.  When I tell the minister this, he says
that I must study the Book of Job and remember that God is trying
my faith."

Mrs. Littlepage assented again, though more vaguely.  After the
milder view of Divine Providence that was presented to the best
people every Sunday morning in St. Luke's Episcopal Church, she had
grown a little flabby in spiritual fibre, and she found herself
shrinking from the vehement doctrines of a less refined but more
formidable theology.  Nevertheless, she told herself, it was
foolish to deny that the poor, and especially the afflicted poor,
needed a firm foundation, and that the hope of immortality rather
than the ease of the present contributed to a cheerful outlook upon
death.  "Poor woman," she thought sadly, "who could wish to destroy
any beliefs that help her to bear her lot?  How can we even imagine
all the secret miseries, like woven tapestries, before her; all the
endless pinching and poverty and mortification of pride that
composed Mrs. Burden's earthly career.  No woman could look so
bleached, so petrified in spirit, so ground down to powder in mind
and heart, unless she had had the pleasure of living wrung drop by
drop out of her body and soul.  Pinching!  Yes, this was the only
word that expressed it.  Nothing but pinching day and night, for
half a century and more, could bring that drawn and sharpened edge
to a woman's features.  Her daughter's ruin, Mrs. Littlepage
reflected, with an aching pity, must have been the last straw to
her pride.  Even with wealth to soften it (and there was no use
pretending that wealth did not soften every affliction), disgrace
was dreadful enough.  And without the alleviation of an ample
income, which did not bring happiness but made unhappiness far more
comfortable, Victoria decided that misery such as Mrs. Burden's was
one of the facts of life you simply could not look in the face.
Was she in want even now?  Was she hungry?  Did she need woollen
garments or sensible boots?  In spite of Victoria's exalted mood,
her practical mind, which was securely tethered to philanthropy,
was already engaged in a tabulation of details.  Food, clothes,
fuel; these things were necessary to the body, insisted her
benevolent purpose.

"We were getting along nicely until Milly's misfortune," Mrs.
Burden lamented.  "After that I had to give up my place because I
couldn't keep up my spirits.  I was matron for a church home for
old ladies, and the old ladies didn't want anybody about who
couldn't act cheerful and brisk."

"Have you ever thought of going back to some easy place?  Mr.
Littlepage tells me that your daughter would be glad to leave

"She talks about it.  There is a good position she could have in
New York; but what would become of me in a big city?  I don't know
even a church in New York."

"Has she thought of taking you with her?"

"Well, she says not.  She thinks she could go away by herself; but
I don't see what in the world would become of her if she didn't
have me to advise her.  Not that she ever troubles to take
anybody's advice.  She is her father all over again.  But good
advice, as my poor mother used to say, is beneficial even if nobody
takes it."

"I am sure it is," Mrs. Littlepage agreed, with a smile.  It was
natural, though unfortunate, she supposed, that the poor soul
should be so despondent.  Not that she approved of levity in the
poor.  But such untempered melancholy as Mrs. Burden's was surely
more Russian than American in character.  "Only I was wondering if
it would not be possible to find some congenial occupation for you
in Queenborough?"

"But what in the world would become of Milly if she didn't have me
to look after her?  Why, I often lie awake in the night worrying
myself about who would take care of her if I were to die."

Mrs. Littlepage sighed and thought of Mary Victoria.  "Such
devotion is not usual in this modern age, Mrs. Burden."

"Oh, I'm not pretending that she's grateful for it.  But you can't
neglect your duty just because you don't receive the proper

"You are right, of course, and your attitude is commendable."  As
she rose from her chair, Victoria thought vaguely, "It is weakness,
no doubt, but I do find worldly people so much less depressing."
Almost deprecatingly, she added, "Then, I fear, it is no use
offering you a position as matron in our House of Hope?  Or perhaps
you would like me to consult your daughter about it?"

Mrs. Burden shook her head.  "She doesn't realize how much she
needs me.  But I couldn't reconcile it with my conscience to let
her go to New York alone."

"So many girls do that now," Mrs. Littlepage urged gently, and
checked herself before she added, "even good girls."

"That's what she says.  But I tell her she isn't like other girls.
She has her mistakes to live down, and that makes her more

"I wonder," Mrs. Littlepage sighed.  "I wonder," and indeed she
did.  Though standards were not all that they used to be, she had
observed that a guilty youth is almost as great a disadvantage in a
business career as a virtuous middle age.  "Do you think I might
speak to your daughter?" she asked suddenly, embarking upon an
impulse that astonished her only a little less than it displeased
Mrs. Burden.

"Well, there she is now."  Mrs. Burden raised her voice to a
squeaking tone that was very painful to a sensitive ear.

The front door opened, and rapid footsteps approached.  Suddenly a
light flashed out into the dusk; the wind from the porch rustled
and sighed in the hall; and a few brown and withered leaves drifted
over the threshold.


"Poor Mother, are you still harping on the grave?" asked a defiant
voice from the hall.  There was the worldly sound of Marmaduke's
laugh; and an instant afterwards, Milly came into the room with a
pile of kindling wood in her arms.  As she stepped over the
threshold, the shadows parted and flowed away into darkness; and
when she tossed a handful of sticks on the fire a sudden wavering
glow transfigured the depressing interior.  "How vital she is,"
thought Mrs. Littlepage, while she held out her large, soft hand
with a motherly gesture, "but she looks older and harder than she
did before Mary Victoria's marriage."  Seeing the girl like this,
she could understand the spell that had been cast over Virginius.
Not so beautiful, not nearly so perfect in feature as Mary
Victoria, but more human and certainly far more exciting.  The kind
of woman, Mrs. Littlepage meditated, not without sympathy, who has
power over men; the kind of woman whose every act, every gesture is
instinct with vitality; the kind of woman who, whether she was
innocent or guilty, used to be called dangerous.

"Mrs. Littlepage has offered me a place, Milly," Mrs. Burden
explained, with an accent of proper pride, "but I was just telling
her I didn't see how you would be able to get on without me."

"Oh, don't worry, Mother.  I can manage."  What a voice the girl
had!  How charged it was, beneath its gay derision, with youth and
magic and a breathless longing for flight!  No really good woman
could look so alive, Mrs. Littlepage decided regretfully.  Whether
Milly's bloom was natural, as it appeared, or artificial, as
Victoria suspected from the fashion of the age, it served
definitely to place her in a class with those other women who are
not all that they should be.  And, apart from her rich colour and
her springtime glance, she was disposed of, for philanthropic
purposes, by the striking character of her dress.  That red
cardigan, for example, the exact shade of--Victoria cast about
helplessly in her mind--a carnal appeal!  Though Mrs. Littlepage
had never approved of severe measures with sin, she had always
preferred the mildewed aspect of poor Aunt Agatha to the
meretricious glamour of Mrs. Dalrymple's appearance.  To resemble a
ruin rather than a monument was surely more in keeping with a true
sense of remorse.  "Only hussies fall lightly enough to land on
their feet," her dear old grandfather, who prided himself upon a
robust vocabulary, had been fond of observing; and though she was
perfectly aware that a single fatal misstep may make a Magdalen, it
required, she told herself, both a slip and a recovery to create a

"Are there any of us," she inquired sweetly and softly, "who do not
need a mother's love and a mother's prayers?"

"What sort of home do you mean?" was Milly's disconcerting
response.  A stick of resinous pine had fallen from the fire; and
bending lightly, with a grace that would have tempted the nimble
male, she flung the wood back on the flames.

"We are looking for an assistant matron, really more of an adopted
mother, for our House of Hope," Victoria replied in the bright and
helpful tone of her Wednesday talks to drooping daughters of joy.

"I think that it would suit her.  Why won't she accept it?"

"She feels that you would not be able to manage without her.  But
if you are really going away--"  Dropping her sincere and earnest
gaze before the mocking eyes of the girl, Victoria turned with a
mute appeal to the older woman.

"I couldn't think of letting her go to New York without me," Mrs.
Burden moaned.

"But I can get on perfectly well, mother.  I could take a little
apartment by myself, and I'd be free for a few months.  I'd be
free," she breathed suddenly, in a voice that was tremulous with
passion, with longing, with some indefinable joy of escape.

"Are any of us really free?" Mrs. Littlepage asked, with the
patient wisdom of platitude.

"For a little while," Milly answered in that quivering tone.  "All
I ask is to be alone--to be free--for a little while, just a few
months.  As soon as I make a place there, Mother could join me."

In a normal girl Mrs. Littlepage reflected, Milly's wish would have
appeared far from extravagant; but what the poor child had happily
forgotten was the tragic circumstances of her ruinous past.  Since
her innocence, being already lost, was no longer in peril, was she
sufficiently prepared, through forbidden knowledge alone, to defend
what remained of her character?  "She doesn't," Victoria mused
sadly, "realize what it means to a woman to have forfeited the
respect of men."

Bending over her knitting-needles, which she picked up for
protection, Mrs. Burden whimpered under her breath, "You'll be
sorry when I'm dead, Milly."

"I'm sorry now, Mother.  I've always been sorry.  But I do want to
be free."

"Perhaps when you say 'free' what you really mean is 'rested,'"
Mrs. Littlepage prompted, with tactful inspiration.  "Perhaps
you've been kept too close in the office."

"No, I don't mean rested.  I mean free.  I mean free to go and come
when I choose.  I mean free not to be asked where I'm going, or
where I've been, or why I went, or what I did there."

"That, my child, is nothing more than nerves," Mrs. Littlepage
replied more patiently than ever, because she perceived that there
was infinite need of patience.  After all, it did really look as if
Milly needed her mother.  Any young woman, with or without a past,
who talked so wildly was in evident need of both mother and
husband.  "I am sure," she added inaccurately, "that you will find
your mother ready to help you."

"If she had followed my advice, she would never have got into this
state of mind," Mrs. Burden lamented, with bitterness.  "I didn't
know what nerves meant when I was her age, and I'm sure nobody ever
had a meaner life, though I've always kept respectable."

"Certainly, that is very much to be commended," Mrs. Littlepage
remarked in her charming social manner, which had never failed her
in the hour of necessity.  "You are a mother, I am sure, of whom
any girl might be proud.  Suppose," she concluded still brightly,
"that you agree to think over the matter and let me have your
decision.  Remember, if I can help you in any way, either by advice
or in a more practical form, I shall be only too happy to do it."

"Perhaps, after all, Mother will take that place for a few months,"
Milly was urging.  "Just until I am settled--"

"You couldn't get settled without me, Milly.  You haven't any idea
how helpless you are about taking care of yourself or how dependent
you are on me.  I couldn't sleep at night for thinking of you in
New York alone, with nobody to stand between you and temptation."

Mrs. Littlepage held out her hand.  Really it looked, she sighed,
as if there could be no solution.  Though she yielded to no one, as
she often said, in respect for the maternal instinct, she could not
dismiss the thought that moderation, even in a divinely implanted
attribute, is an excellent quality.  With patient kindness, she
shook hands; with patient kindness, she murmured "goodnight"; and
with patient kindness, she left the room and walked slowly out of
the house into the roving wind, which blew from a mottled sky and
smelled of dead leaves.  She felt very tired, weak, and tremulous.
The visit had taxed her physical strength, and yet she had failed
in her effort to clear the way for Mary Victoria.  She had failed,
and she was shaken from her inward serenity.

As she reached the gate, the door of the house behind her opened
and shut again, and she heard the startled whisper of Milly's
voice.  "Mrs. Littlepage, will you wait?  May I speak to you?"

Turning hurriedly, she saw the red flash of Milly's cardigan and
her pale forehead beneath dark wings of hair which melted into the
twilight.  Indoors, by the fireside, Victoria had been moved by the
girl's sparkling vitality, but out here, in this ruined garden,
surrounded by the blue dusk and the restless murmur of leaves in
the grass, Milly's charm was subdued to an impersonal agency.  It
was as if she had ceased to be merely a wronged woman, and had
deepened into a tragic experience, a vehicle of inarticulate

"Why, certainly."  After all, what other word could convey at once
so much and so little?

"Won't you please, oh, please, keep that place free a few days
longer?  Perhaps I can persuade mother, if only you will give me a
little more time.  It would make everything," the words rushed out
with a desperate eagerness, "so much easier."

"I can understand that, but she doesn't look as if she could be
persuaded.  After all," this was uttered less firmly, "wouldn't you
feel safer if your mother was with you?"

"Oh, I don't want to feel safe.  I want to feel free."

"That is a wrong feeling, my child."  The familiar refrain, for she
had had much experience with girls who felt the wrong way, acted as
a divine rubric upon the disordered processes of Victoria's mind.
"You should try to curb such impulses and to govern your
imagination.  One danger of an unbridled imagination is that it so
often leads to a nervous collapse."

"That," Milly rejoined in an emphatic whisper, "is also the danger
of a bridled nature."

She was tremulous; she was unhappy; she had reached the breaking
point of her strength; and Mrs. Littlepage, who was profoundly
moved, was obliged to remind herself that these emotions might have
been, but apparently were not, the outward signs of repentance.
"You must cultivate a more hopeful view, my dear child," she urged,
while her sympathetic heart overflowed and very nearly demolished
the narrow boundaries of her settled opinions.  "You must not allow
yourself to brood over the past."

"It isn't the past; it is the present," the girl answered in her
thrilling voice.  "I want my life.  I have a right to my own life."

Mrs. Littlepage, as a devout believer in the Episcopal Prayer-Book,
could not go so far as Mrs. Burden in embracing the doctrine that
we are all miserable worms in the sight of God.  Still, though she
had her doubts about the dogma of original sin, she had been
brought up by indulgent but pious parents to regard life, as she
regarded the chivalry to be expected from a Southern gentleman,
more as a privilege than as a right.  "I fear you have a mistaken
point of view," she said, with gentle authority.  "So many young
people of to-day have lost sight of the fact that duty, not
pleasure, is the chief aim of living.  I always tell my girls," she
continued on a higher note, "that, if we think enough of our duty,
our happiness will take care of itself."  If only she could instill
this sacred precept into Milly's agitated bosom!  But could any
voice, however imperative, quiet, even for an hour, the tumultuous
conflict in Milly's heart?  "How different she is from other
injured women," Victoria said to herself, with a fresh impulse of
pity.  Suddenly, without warning, an unsolicited heresy darted into
her mind, and she found herself thinking, with a kind of weary
astonishment, "I wonder why poor Aunt Agatha, or any other woman,
ever consented to become a superstition?"  A superstition!  Was she
actually going deranged?  Or was there a grain of truth in the evil
imagination that ruined women, like ghosts and goblins and warlocks
and witches, vanished into the dark ages of faith as soon as the
world ceased to believe in them?  It seemed incredible and
preposterous things were true nevertheless.

"I am not asking much," Milly was insisting in that tone of
strangled emotion.  "Only a few months or a year by myself.  After
being by myself, I could bear mother-love so much better."

Bear mother-love!  What an idea!  What an expression!  Surely
civilization was in imminent danger if the noblest sentiment of the
race, and not only of the race, but of all sacred and profane
literature, had become a burden instead of a blessing to the young.

"I'll see what I can do, my dear child," she answered, with a
manner of gentle rebuke.  Then, before turning away, she lingered
there on the broken flagstones, between the house and the gate, and
asked her perplexed mind how a girl with an unfortunate past could
have kept so gallant a look.  The dusk was already closing in; but
a transparent lustre still mantled the west; and by the wan light
that fell from the sky, she could distinguish the glimmering
radiance of Milly's smile.  In a flash, she remembered that
Virginius had always insisted upon calling Milly "a good woman."
Though Mrs. Littlepage was by no means prepared to follow masculine
opinion in such matters (and had observed, indeed, how often
trouble came of encouraging men in that branch of philanthropy),
she could not resist the indulgent thought, "After all, I cannot
find it in my heart to condemn her."  In the winter dusk it seemed
to her that passion enveloped, though it failed to ruffle, her
passionless nature.  She felt that she was being slowly suffocated
by the despairing effort, the mute anguish, the deep vibration, of
a thwarted desire.

"You must not lose courage," she said as cheerfully as she could
while she thought anxiously:  "How would it be possible to provide
for Mrs. Burden without allowing her to have a doleful effect on
our girls?  Of course, I could arrange to pay her salary myself,
and one would think that the gloomiest influence might be safely
assigned to look after the laundry."  Aloud, she added in a
motherly tone, "My husband and I shall always be interested in your

"He has been an angel to me!" Milly exclaimed, with fervent

Beneath the roving touch of the wind, a flush burned Victoria's
cheek.  Sincerely as she respected gratitude, and deplored the lack
of that sentiment in modern youth, she could but feel that ardour
like this was excessive.  Her confidence in Virginius was unshaken;
but she remembered that even the best husbands, who have no lower
side to their natures, are seldom without their innocent vanities.

"Have you made your preparations to leave?" she inquired abruptly.

"Not until I can settle about mother.  That is all I am waiting

"Do you think you will be happy in New York?"

"Happy?"  The word was so long in ending that it seemed to stretch
and break beneath its burden of pain, of longing, of hope deferred,
of mocking derision.

"I can never forgive him," Mrs. Littlepage said to herself; and
without warning, the thought stabbed through her mind, "I wonder if
she has seen him since his return?"

For an instant the horror of the idea left her speechless.  Then an
impulse stronger than pity, stronger than anger, stronger than
righteous resentment, surged up from the deep below the deeps of
her being.  Loyalty to her own, the oldest and most vital of her
instincts, rose in the ascendant.

"The evenings must seem very long to your mother," she said in a
voice that grew more reserved with each syllable.

Milly flung out her arm with a gesture of weary impatience.  "Oh,
the evenings are always long when you are waiting for nothing!"

"I begin to feel that the sooner you go, the better it will be,"
Mrs. Littlepage said sadly.  "Even if your mother does not make a
suitable matron for our home (on this point she felt very dubious),
I can promise you that my husband and I will look after her.  It
may be better to arrange for someone to live with her here and
attend to the lodgers."

Then, choking back her sympathy in the cause of her maternal
feeling, she dropped Milly's hand from her gentle pressure, and
turning away, walked slowly over the sunken flagstones and out into
the street.  Well, that visit was at last over!  Painful, indeed,
she had found it; for she felt that the struggle with Mrs. Burden
had exhausted all the resources of her patience and her diplomacy.

Yes, she was very tired.  Her limbs ached; her feet dragged; there
was a flutter in her pulse that reminded her of the irregular
ticking of a clock that is about to run down.  "I must go straight
to bed," she thought.  "The doctor warned me against over-exertion.
To-morrow I must begin to rest later, and I must refuse to see
anyone but Louisa."  Even in the quivering state of her nerves the
image of Louisa brooded serenely above her stormy horizon.  "If I
find that I am too tired to settle this matter; if I am unable to
help this girl without harming Mary Victoria, Louisa will take the
problem out of my hands."  Yes, it was an inexpressible comfort to
remember that Louisa was always waiting and ready to help her.

What a dismal street it was in the twilight!  Dark, insecurely
paved with bricks, and swept by an untidy wind that scattered dust
and leaves in her face.  A chill penetrated her heart, and she
thought, "Why did I come?  How will it end?  What is the meaning of
so much unhappiness?"

It was at this moment, as she approached the corner, with a
shuddering fear in her mind, that a man emerged from the thick
obscurity into her range of vision, and she recognized Mary
Victoria's husband.  Hurriedly, without seeing her, he plunged
again from the electric light into the shadows, walking, she
observed quickly, more with the haste of an uncertain lover than
with the leisurely step of a husband who knows what awaits him.

"It can't be.  It is; but it oughtn't to be," she sighed in a panic
of terror.  "Oh, my poor child!  Oh, my poor Mary Victoria!"

There was no thought left now of divided emotion; there was no
thought left of any feeling except that vehement loyalty to her
own.  Pain as forked as lightning struck into her heart.  "I must
try to bear it," she thought in terror.  "I must try to bear it no
matter what happens.  But not for anything in the world would I go
through it again."




"It feels like spring," thought Mr. Littlepage; and turning his
head on the pillow, he looked through one of the open windows into
a world that was transfigured by the swift pulsations of dawn.
Beyond the glossy twigs of the maples, the sunrise widened in
circles over the cloudless blue of the sky.  "It is only January,
but it feels like spring.  It feels like what we used to call a
false spring when I was young."

Within the last few months he had argued two important cases in
Washington before the Supreme Court; and this morning, after his
second victory, it seemed to him that he was floating out into life
with the freedom of a tired swimmer taking his ease.  "One case
more or less, whether it is won or lost, makes little difference,"
he said to himself, with his gaze on the eddying ripples of light.
"I have, on the whole, made a success of my career, I suppose."

Fragile, transparent, as softly iridescent as the rays from a
jewel, the sunrise was stealing over the distant chimneys, over the
quiet streets, over the dark network of branches, and over the
tranquil form in the twin bed beside him.  "Yes, it is only a false
spring," he repeated, while the words enkindled the trembling
gleam, the buried star of desire, that flickered in the profoundest
depths of his being.  "It is only a false spring, and we shall have
our snows before April."  Closing his eyes again, he thought, with
a start of surprise over nothing, "Life!  I wonder why people don't
manage to get more out of life!"  Coming and going, getting and
spending!  These endeavours were all well enough in their way; but
were they sufficient for happiness?  In the other twin bed Victoria
moved in her sleep and turned her smooth ashen-brown head on the

He had awakened with a sense of eager expectancy.  What was the
meaning of it?  Had he been dreaming?  Had anything happened last
night?  No, he remembered that he had gone to bed feeling rather
more tired than usual, vaguely depressed, as if the best part of
his life were already behind him; and now, after a quiet night
(though he was aware that Victoria had been restless), he had
opened his eyes on a world that was glistening with promise.  "I
must have been dreaming," he said aloud; and remembered that years
ago as a boy he used to awake with the feeling that he was about to
begin again some delightful adventure which he had left unfinished
in sleep.

"There must have been something else," he thought urgently.  "There
must have been something more than I remember."  While he searched
his reluctant mind the face of Mrs. Dalrymple was woven airily from
the brightness of dawn.  Quickly he closed his eyes; but when he
opened them again she was still there, as if the effort to banish
her had merely deepened her lustre.  For days, for weeks even, he
had seen her like this.  In vain he had obliterated her image; in
vain he had tried to subdue his riotous senses to the sober
dictates of reason; in vain he had reminded himself that ladies of
too liberal virtue are more alluring than safe, and that, in the
pursuit of pleasure, as in the purchase of securities, the prudent
Southern gentleman has always preferred safety to hazard.  None of
these arguments, however, had moderated the demands of that
eccentric appetite which persists in thirsting for the unattainable
and devouring what is bad for it.  Only last evening, for example,
he had intended to avoid Mrs. Dalrymple when he saw her on the
other side of the street.  He had intended to avoid her; he had
even started to do so, when destiny, moving in the strangest manner
through his lagging footsteps, had swept him, out of the easiest
way, in her direction.  And as soon as he had passed within the
sunny area of her charm, of her ardent vitality, as soon as he had
met the sparkling challenge of her smile, he knew that, for the
hour at least, if not for all eternity, he was lost.  Was it
credible, he asked himself now, that in his carefully entrenched
middle age he should be visited by one of those flaming passions
that he had watched pursue, and sometimes overtake, other men?
Useless to pretend that he could curb either his roving fancy or
his rambling footsteps!  Useless to deny that he was hesitating,
more or less precariously, upon the brink of a dangerous situation!
Several times within the last month, Mrs. Dalrymple had dropped
into his office, with what he could only recognize as the
fabricated excuse of consulting his legal opinion.  More frequently
still he had passed her gate, and had naturally stopped to exchange
a comment upon the weather and other impersonal topics.  Yesterday,
indeed, instead of leaving her as soon as courtesy permitted, he
had accompanied her into the house and had glanced, in a dimly
lighted room, over a few harmless documents.  Nothing had happened.
Absolutely nothing.  Nothing that is, his accurate mind amended,
more imprudent than his careless remark, "You have made no changes
in this room," and her plaintive sigh, "Ah, then you have not
forgotten!"  What an extraordinary woman she was, in spite, or
because of, her romantic misfortunes!  All that sparkling vivacity,
all that fragrant softness, which some man had betrayed and some
other man, no doubt, had enjoyed.  A little over-blown, perhaps
("luscious," Marmaduke had called her); but far more satisfying to
a discriminating taste than the closed buds of immaturity.  In that
dusk firelight it had seemed to him that her loveliness was
suffused with the immortal glamour of legend.  She had become a
part of a more effervescent world, of a more vital experience; and
it was this increased joy of life that he was longing to share.  He
was longing to share it, though he knew that longings are bestowed
upon man not that he may gratify, but that he may resist them, and
by resistance set an example of merit.  And now, without resisting,
without even evading, which was easier in practice, if less sound
in theory, he drifted hazily into the wonder why light women are
more tempting than their sisters of substantial morality?  Not all
of them, to be sure.  There were, there must be, exceptions.  But
thinking only of charm, of that mysterious yet potent quality which
disturbs the heart through the senses, it did appear that women who
had forgotten themselves were the ones that men were long in
remembering.  Sterling attributes were, of course, desirable in the
home.  It would never have occurred to him to associate Mrs.
Dalrymple either with the breakfast table or the twin bed; but, for
the purposes of romance it seemed that the lighter the woman, the
better chance she possessed of adorning the unexclusive pages of

"Are you awake, Virginius?" inquired the morning voice of Victoria;
and, as if in reply to her question, the door opened and Maggie
sidled in with the tray of early coffee.  Ever since Victoria's
illness last winter, she had taken a cup of black coffee before
rising, and animated by the marital instinct for imitation,
Virginius had adopted this agreeable custom.  At first he had urged
her to have breakfast in bed; but the older Southern tradition had
regarded breakfast in bed as the beginning of a decline, and a cup
of black coffee, without cream or sugar, was the only indulgence
Victoria permitted herself as a wife.

Large, soft, slightly rambling in figure, but discreetly composed
in expression, she sat up (while Maggie lowered the windows) and
poured the coffee into one of the thin green and white cups.  In
her prim cambric nightgown, beneath the modest lavender bed sacque,
she had not lost the natural sweetness and dignity of her

"How pale, how tired, she looks this morning!" Virginius thought,
while he reached across the intervening space and received the cup
from her hand.  Though she still wore a cheerful look (nowhere, not
even at a funeral, could she have reconciled it with her duty to
look cross or unpleasant), there were violet circles under her eyes
and a fine network of wrinkles around her mouth.  Seldom had she
appeared less desirable; yet her good and gentle expression was
still attractive and he told himself that she could never entirely
lose the air of innocence with which he had first fallen in love.
Inexplicable as it seemed, his lawless desire for Mrs. Dalrymple
had increased his tender solicitude for Victoria.  Never had he
been more considerate of her in fancy than in those sanguine
moments when he almost persuaded himself that he could be
unfaithful to her in fact.  In contradiction to all moral precept
and most recorded examples, the mere prospect of infidelity had
made him not only a happier, but a more unselfish husband.  What he
needed, he perceived at last, was not more of marriage, but some
ardent, though of course supplementary, interest in life.

"It is a comfort to me, Virginius," Victoria said, while she sipped
her coffee, "to think that at last we have been able to help Milly

This magnanimity, so characteristic of her, brought a rush of
tenderness to his heart.  At the instant, he profoundly admired
Victoria.  He longed to tell her that he admired her, that he loved
her; but no, this, he knew, was impossible.  He had been married
now for almost thirty-two years, and every husband would understand
that it was impossible to say things like that in marriage.  So he
responded simply, "Aren't you always helping somebody, my dear?"

"But this is a particular case."

"Isn't every case a particular one?"

"Well, I've seen her several times lately, and seeing people does
make a difference.  Except with Mrs. Burden.  It was seeing Mrs.
Burden that made me realize she wouldn't do at all for our House of

"Naturally.  But if you pay her rent and leave her where she is,
how are you going to find anybody to look after her?"

"Oh, that is all arranged.  Louisa arranged it.  She knows another
very respectable woman who is almost as depressing, and quite as
lonely as Mrs. Burden.  Together they ought to be able to keep each
other company in the evenings."

Mr. Littlepage smiled at the pathetic picture.  "You'll find them
fighting like cat and dog before the end of the week," he said,
"and Marmaduke interposing.  However, it's all one to me so long as
Milly escapes."

For a few moments Victoria pondered the idea.  Then she said
thoughtfully, "I have the queerest kind of feeling that we are

Yes, he might have known, he assured himself, with relief, that it
was always prudent to trust Victoria's feeling.  "That is exactly
my own sentiment, my dear," he said warmly.  "It is gratifying to
me to find that you share my sense of obligation."

"Mary Victoria feels differently.  She is convinced that she kept
Martin from taking his life.  It is impossible even to argue with
her because she insists upon seeing an act of God in it all."

Mr. Littlepage sighed resentfully.  Nothing, he was ready to
acknowledge, could be more difficult to argue with than an act of
God, not even the faith that persisted in magnifying every
occurrence into a miracle.  It was one thing, he told himself, to
affirm a belief in the incredible from the family pew in church on
Sunday morning, and quite another matter to assent to fables from
one of the twin beds of modern marriage.  "There are times," he
remarked irritably, "when it seems to me that Mary Victoria's head
was completely turned by the war."

"I don't wonder that you are annoyed, Virginius.  Nothing is more
annoying than an infatuation in somebody else.  Perhaps when the
baby comes she will begin to be normal."

"I hope so.  If she doesn't, and he continues to sow his wild
ideas, I think it would be well for them to move into a house of
their own.  I'd buy them a house tomorrow, if it meant not having
to see him three times a day."

"Of course, while there's danger--and in spite of the way doctors
talk about safety in childbirth, women do still die of it--but
while there is any danger I feel that I should like to have her
with me."

"Naturally, my dear.  I am sorry to find that her marriage is
turning out no better than we expected."

"I sometimes think," Victoria said wearily, for she always felt
worse in the morning, "that she doesn't know how to manage him."

"Well, it isn't for lack of experience.  Look at the way she
managed men in the Balkans."

"Perhaps it isn't the same thing."

"No doubt you are right.  Relief work may be quite as arduous as
marriage, but I am inclined to agree with you that it requires less
diplomacy.  I should say, from my casual observation, that he is
suffering from too much rather than too little managing."

"That is just what I mean, Virginius.  You see Mary Victoria tries
to rule him by reason alone; and reason, however admirable it may
be, is the last thing men ever look for in women."

"Yet you, my dear, have always been guided by reason.  It is,
indeed, one of your most endearing traits.  What could, for
example, be more reasonable than your changed ideas about Milly

Inherently honest, yet desirous of pleasing, Victoria hesitated
before she opened her lips.  Was her eagerness to place Milly at a
distance owing to solicitude for the unhappy girl or to maternal
anxiety about Mary Victoria?  For weeks now she had remembered that
absorbed figure driven by a dangerous impulse through the thick
twilight, and with each recollection, she assured herself that it
was only natural for a mother to think first of her own daughter.
"After seeing their home I realized what a struggle she must have
had," she said slowly.  "People of that class are so harsh in their
virtue.  Her neighbours must have made it very trying for her in
the beginning."

"She never told me.  She's that sort, you know.  But the old lady
was with her, you see, and she must have been some kind of
protection.  Few landlords would dare to attack such a fortress of

"Respectable but so depressing.  Just imagine how dreary it must be
to live in the house with her."

"Well, people have managed to live cheerfully in the house with the
doctrine of predestination.  Some of us, you remember, never
recognise duty until it is scraped to the bone."

"You musn't call that duty."  The words sounded so flat that they
might have been spoken by a ventriloquist, and he told himself that
Victoria had not put her mind on what she was saying.  "I like to
consider duty a part of religion."

There were times, and this was one of them, when Mr. Littlepage
preferred not to consider duty at all; and so long as he was not
compelled to think about it, he was willing that Victoria should
decorate the idea in any fantastic art that she admired.  "Of
course, you feel that way," he assented before he touched on a
subject in which he was naturally more interested.  "I have come to
the conclusion that we made a mistake when we let Mary Victoria go
to the Balkans."

"How could we have stopped her, Virginius?  Mary Victoria is very

He sighed.  "I fear she is.  And, after all, if it hadn't been
Europe, it would have been Africa."

"Yes, it was obliged to be some other country.  She has that kind
of idealism.  I don't mean that she doesn't love America best; but,
with all the other women working to improve things at home, she
felt that there wasn't room for her energies.  Motherhood will
change all that, I am sure."

"And I suppose all this energy, which was too big to be exercised
at home, will be devoted now to the reform of one poor devil.
There are times, I confess, when I pity almost as heartily as I
despise him."

"I don't like that tone, Virginius, though the idea has often
crossed my mind that Mary Victoria never knows when to stop.  Of
late, it has been something of a relief to look at Curle."

"Yes, Curle will never get us into trouble, though he may make the
world a desert and call it progress.  But we must remember they are
both good children, and so, for that matter, is Duncan.  If he were
not my son, I am inclined to think that Duncan would be my
favourite of the three."

"I think that so often, Virginius, and I tell myself that we have
much to be thankful for.  Suppose we had had a daughter like Milly

His thoughts melted into a reverie, from which there was spun an
airy vision of light and darkness, of tears and laughter.
Daughters like Milly Burden were not plentiful, he imagined, and
seldom, if ever, were to be found in well regulated families.
Then, in obedience to a disturbing recollection, he proffered
sadly, "But there was poor Aunt Agatha."

"Yes, there was poor Aunt Agatha," Victoria admitted.  "But, even
though I never believed it, the family insisted that Aunt Agatha
was slightly deranged at the time of her fall."

For a moment he was silent, less from lack of an argument than
because there are ideas a Southern gentleman does not introduce to
his wife.  Though it was impossible, he knew, for any man to live
in the present age and remain in a state of innocence concerning
the faults of biology, he still assumed that Victoria was
impervious to the bolder misdemeanours of science.  To be sure,
Louisa, who had penetrated beneath the shallow surface of sound
opinions, had discovered, to her satisfaction, that more than one
indelicacy is required to make the most capricious of manias.  But
that was Louisa; and Louisa had travelled far since the artificial
'eighties, when spinsters, like husbands, had preferred sweetness
to light.  With Virginius, however, sophistication had never
filtered through the interwoven fibres of prejudice.  Stronger than
theory, stronger than impulse, some ingrained moral principle
asserted that an unbalanced mind was the only excuse for poor Aunt
Agatha's early indulgence, and that prolonged remorse in a third-
floor back bedroom was the only suitable remedy.  "Undoubtedly
there has been a great change," he conceded.

"But moral laws cannot change, Virginius," Victoria protested in
the urgent tone which could be trusted to check Louisa's virgin
dashes after an unbridled psychology.

"Perhaps not.  Yes, certainly not," he replied, with an absence of
earnest conviction.  After all, was anything stable?  How could a
scientific theory, how could a moral law, be more stable than the
perpetual flux from which it emerged and into which it returned?"
It's a queer idea to come to a man like myself, a perfectly normal
man," he thought anxiously, and reflected the next instant that the
normal mind alone made these ideas abnormal.

"Yes, I suppose you're right.  They can't change," he repeated,
without the faintest idea of what he was talking about.  "Well,
it's time for me to get dressed.  You look fagged, Victoria.  Why
don't you have breakfast in bed?"

"No, I'm all right, dear.  Just a minute longer before you go.  I
didn't like to worry you while you had that important case on your
mind; but I have been very much disturbed in the last month about
Mary Victoria."

"Is that so?  I was under the impression that she had everything
her own way as usual."

"You have been too busy to notice.  I waited, hoping that I might
be mistaken; but I feel almost sure that Martin is seeing Milly

This startled him out of the genial egoism in which he had
awakened.  In the act of stepping into his slippers, he paused and
turned his benign but astonished face on his wife.  "What makes you
think so?"

"Well, most of all from his manner.  Men may vary in courtship,
though I doubt it, but they appear to have only one manner for
infidelity.  Then, too, I never told you that I met him, though he
did not recognise me, that evening when I was coming away from
Juniper Hill.  He looked unhappy--at least his walk looked so.  It
was too dark for me to see his expression."

"Are you sure he was going to Milly?"

"No, I'm not sure.  How could I be?  But where else could he have
been rushing at that hour on Juniper Hill?"

"I wonder," Mr. Littlepage mused aloud, while he thrust one plump
white foot into his slipper, "if he can be seeing Milly again?"

"I'm afraid there isn't any doubt of it.  He is the kind of man who
wouldn't hesitate if he wanted to see her.  Only to look at him,
you can tell," she pressed in this point as if it were a needle,
"that he has no sense of moral responsibility."

"He has certainly shown no signs of one.  But he might feel, you
know, that she is not without a claim upon him."

"How could he, Virginius, when he is married to Mary Victoria?"

"I am not disputing the superior claim of his marriage, my dear.  I
am merely reminding you that the seduction of a woman does
constitute some sort of moral claim on a decent man.  When there
has been a child, the claim would appear to become stronger."

"Why, I thought you argued just the other way a few days ago about
your Uncle Mark?"

Startled, but undefeated, Mr. Littlepage frowned at his image in
the mirror.  "But that," he explained, with legal punctilio, "was
the case of a mulatto child."

Victoria blushed as she remembered.  Yes, she supposed the fact of
colour did make a difference in the moral, as well as the legal,
angle of vision.  For Uncle Mark's elaborate profligacy had
belonged to the immense area of knowledge that the mind of the
Southern lady embraced without being aware of.  "Of course I feel
just as you do, Virginius," she said presently, for she preferred
to evade rather than examine the intricate logic of right thinking.

"Well, it is a bad business at best," her husband conceded, as he
wheeled suddenly away from her, in his flowered bath-robe, with the
innocent air of an elderly cherub.

"His seeing her again," Victoria sighed, "will make a distressing
complication.  Poor Mary Victoria!  I wish I knew what was best for

"Knowing what is best wouldn't help her, unless you could persuade
her to change her nature."

"And of course she couldn't do that.  Like all young persons of to-
day, she thinks she possesses the only infallible wisdom."

"That, my dear, is an undistinguished delusion, and confined to no
particular era of history.  Weren't we perfectly sure in the
'nineties that we could hasten the millennium by a study of the
obscurer Victorian poets?"  He was on his way to his dressing-room,
but before he vanished as a husband to materialize, after an
interval, as a pillar of society, he added impressively, "We must
not forget that Milly Burden deserves every consideration.  Though
she has made mistakes, she is at heart a good woman."

Victoria, who had not a vestige of acrimony in her nature, assented
after her fashion.  "I don't doubt that she has her good
qualities," she said gently, while she sank back on her pillows and
turned her faltering glance to the bare boughs and the palely
luminous sky.  "After all, why should I care?" she asked herself
suddenly, with a twinge of asperity.  "None of these things really
matter.  Nothing of all this concerns me."  For the last month,
ever since her visit to Juniper Hill, she had felt that she was
sinking into a windy hollow of space, and that about her there was
only this soundless tumult.  It was as if she moved through the
world and played her part in a state of suspended animation.  "I am
not real, I am hollow within," she repeated, after Virginius had
left her.  "None of them has ever suspected it, but I am as hollow
as a drum beneath the mask I wear."  Again that shiver of
exasperation ran through her nerves, and she added in a whisper,
"If only the noise would stop.  If only I could break through the
confusion, there must be something beyond."


When Mr. Littlepage came down to breakfast he found his wife
presiding over the early Georgian coffee service, which always
reminded him of his mother.  By the window Curle was briskly
unfolding the Morning Post, while poor Aunt Agatha, who had
acquired the habits of a contrite heart and slept little, was
sprinkling an excessive amount of sugar over her oatmeal.  It was
one of the minor irritations of Mr. Littlepage's life that Aunt
Agatha could not be prevailed upon to curb her fondness for sweets.
Not only, as he had good and sufficient reason to know, was sugar
injurious to the Littlepage stock, which was predisposed by
heredity to various diseases; but he remembered that his
grandfather, who preferred his whisky straight, had invented the
maxim that every man digs his grave with his sweet tooth.

"I am sorry to see," he remarked pleasantly, as he drew back his
chair, "that Aunt Agatha is so reckless in the matter of sugar.
No, Randall, no grape-fruit this morning."

Victoria shed a mild diffusive beam over the coffee-urn.  "So long
as she doesn't grow fat or impair her digestion, why should we

"But she will suffer, she is obliged to suffer," Virginius
insisted.  "Haven't I heard my dear old father say a hundred times
that too much sugar was injurious to everything by the name of

"She hasn't felt any bad effects yet, my dear."

"She will feel them in time."

"Well, why not give her time, father?" asked Curle, with his
buoyant air of "Don't knock, boost," or "Boost, don't knock" (to
save his life Mr. Littlepage could not remember which advice came
first.).  "My private opinion is that, if grandfather had taken
more sugar and less whisky in his toddy, he might have weathered
the bad effects more easily.  Are you afraid to try this batter-
bread and roe herring?"

Mr. Littlepage frowned over his egg and dry toast.  Yes, Duncan was
right when he charged Curle with possessing every qualification for
political life, even an aptitude for hypocrisy.  As for the subject
of their discussion, he regretted to see that she was reaching
slyly for the maple syrup, and having finished her oatmeal, was
preparing to invite dyspepsia with buckwheat cakes.  Strange that
he should have lived in the house so many years with poor Aunt
Agatha without observing that she had a disingenuous, he had almost
said a stealthy, demeanour.  Curle, on the contrary, dispatched his
unwholesome but appetizing breakfast with the haste of a man who is
on the point of flight or pursuit.  The instant after such
criticisms had entered his mind, Mr. Littlepage paused to ask
himself if these were fair and impartial opinions, or if, for some
reason so obscure that he could not fathom the source, he had left
his genial morning mood in the bath-tub?  Certainly he had awakened
in an agreeable frame of mind.  His impressions of the sunrise had
been delightful and luminous.  Not a cloud had darkened his
horizon, not a misgiving, not so much as the shadow of a lean moral
scruple.  Then gradually, without his being aware of the process,
the illumination had faded.  Instead of that magnetic impulse
toward activity, he had felt merely an increasing sense of defeat.
The thickening medium of day; the interchange of ideas with
Victoria; even the necessity of putting on his clothes and
resisting his appetite at breakfast--all these tedious details,
though harmless enough in themselves, had settled in an accretion
of gloom over the surface of life.

"It would be wise for you to take a little more time with your
meals, my boy," he remarked directly to Curle; for having observed
Aunt Agatha's positive way with the maple syrup, he had reminded
himself that advice was always wasted on a woman, especially on a
woman who had received it so profusely.

"Oh, I don't bother about dyspepsia," Curle replied in his hurried
tone, without waiting, his father noticed disapprovingly, to chew
his food before he gulped it down.  "Whenever I feel a pain, I
swallow a pellet."

"That," Mr. Littlepage rejoined moodily, "is inviting dyspepsia."
And it crossed his mind, though he yielded to no one in the
sentiment of patriotism, that it was in keeping with the American
brand of courage to invite dyspepsia with a panacea in one's
pocket.  "Where is Mary Victoria?" he inquired, averting his glance
from the rapid impairment of Curle's digestion.

"The child isn't well this morning," Victoria explained.  "I spoke
to her on the way down and urged her to stay in bed.  Martin," she
added in a cooling tone, "never gets up until the last minute."

"I dare say he contracted that habit from literature; but it is out
of place in a business career."

"He complains that he is unable to sleep at night."

"Do you know when he came in?"

Mrs. Littlepage looked appealingly at Curle, who replied in his
breezy manner.  "I let him in at one o'clock.  He had forgotten his
key.  His key or his change is always in the other pocket."

"Did he tell you why he was so late?" asked Mr. Littlepage, with a
vaguely menacing air.

Curle laughed.  "Yes, he explained that he had been out for a walk.
It appears that he prefers taking his walks at night.  No doubt he
contracted that habit also from literature.  Perhaps even," he
added, with jovial humour, "from French literature."

It was unreasonable, Mr. Littlepage mused, to expect Curle to
admire Martin.  It was unreasonable to expect any man with red
blood in his veins to admire a white-livered mooncalf, who wrote
unwholesome books that nobody bought, and had lived long enough in
Paris to lose the last shreds of American idealism.  Curle,
whatever his faults of breeding, and they were serious, was an
American, every ounce of him.  Moreover, in all the essentials of
the code (including his respect for women and his antipathy to
unwholesome books, and indeed to books of any character), he was a
Southern gentleman of the permanent school.  Well, there was
comfort, however luke-warm, in the assurance that Curle would never
cause him an uneasy moment.  His younger son, he had long ago
decided, was as safe as a Liberty Bond and almost as uninteresting.
As for those nocturnal wanderings of Martin, Mr. Littlepage told
himself that he was still conventional enough to disapprove of any
midnight strolling that took you away from your wife.

"I wish he would come home earlier," Mrs. Littlepage murmured
anxiously.  "It keeps Mary Victoria up so late, and she needs

"But I thought we gave them that upstairs sitting-room because he
liked to stay up and she wanted to go to bed?"

"That didn't work very well.  She says she can't go to sleep until
she knows he is in the house, and if she drops off and he wakes her
by turning on the light, she doesn't close her eyes again.  I
suppose she got into bad habits, too, like everybody else who went
to Europe and didn't come home as soon as possible."

"The trouble is," Duncan remarked, with his sardonic smile, "that
there isn't as much room for bad habits in this house as there was
in Europe.  Some of them have to be broken."

"Well, you can scarcely expect Mary Victoria to begin as long as
she is not feeling well," Mrs. Littlepage urged gently.  "If there
are sacrifices to be made at this time, surely Martin ought to be
willing to make them.  Aren't you taking rather too much coffee
this morning, Virginius?"

"Perhaps, my dear.  Has it occurred to you, by the way, that Martin
is the sort of husband who has never discovered that sacrifices are
expected in marriage?"

"Hush!  They are coming.  There will be some hot coffee in a
minute, Curle."

"Well, it's a fine morning," Mr. Littlepage observed blandly.

"A very fine morning," his wife assented a little nervously.  "I
hope you had a good night, Aunt Agatha?"  Meeting poor Aunt
Agatha's sharpened glance, she thought irrelevantly, "I sometimes
think she might have had a mind if she had ever been allowed to use

"A very good night, thank you," poor Aunt Agatha replied politely;
for this was the answer she had made every morning, in sickness or
in health, for almost half a century.  Sitting there in the winter
sunlight, with her small, keen features, her bent shoulders under a
furry grey shawl, her animated brown eyes, and her eager yet polite
appetite for sweets, she reminded her nephew of a fastidious
squirrel intent upon shelling a nut.  Though he gazed at her
thoughtfully, there was little wonder, if any, in his mind; for she
had reached the age when a woman, however piquant her reputation,
has ceased to be an object of wonder to men.  She had reached the
age, indeed, he reflected, when all experience for a woman has
withered to the small hard kernel of duty.  So shadowy was the
impression left by Aunt Agatha on her surroundings that when
Victoria had once remarked to her husband, "Poor Aunt Agatha has
had such an empty life!" he had replied, with inattentive kindness.
"Why, I thought we had made her very comfortable.  After all, women
of her age must expect to make duty their pleasure."  What, indeed,
he had proceeded to reason, could be more in harmony with the ideal
of pure womanhood than an imperceptible fading, at the proper time
of life, from the ornamental into the useful, from the woman whom
men admire into the woman whom men esteem?  And when Victoria had
objected in her mild but obstinate tone, "Esteem is good as far as
it goes, Virginius, but you can't fill your life with it," he had
retorted almost irritably, "Good women when they grow old have
always done so, Victoria."

"Did you have a good night, dear?" Victoria began again, forgetting
in her anxiety that she had spoken to her daughter upstairs.  Then,
without waiting for a reply, she continued with artificial
brightness, "It is a very fine morning."

"No, I couldn't sleep, but it is a fine morning."  Though Mary
Victoria's animation was flagging, she smiled as bravely as ever.
Would the time ever come, her father mused while he watched her,
when the brilliance of her smile would be tarnished by years?  She
was looking a little drawn and sallow, he noticed, and when the
smile faded on her pure cold features, he was reminded of the
paling of the rich afterglow in a leaden sky.  How much of her
conquering loveliness was owing to the merest accident of light and
colour?  At this hour she appeared not only ill, but as soon as she
stopped smiling, unhappy.  Was this touching expression the result
of some physical change, or was the fellow already making her
miserable?  Certainly, no husband ought to wander alone at midnight
when his wife was for the first time, or even for the last time, in
Mary Victoria's condition.  Even if Martin had not gone to see
Milly, he had committed the unpardonable affront of roaming about
the streets while his wife was waiting sleepless for him in her
father's house.  While he meditated, Mr. Littlepage felt the flame
of righteous indignation mounting within him.  It was incredible to
him that any man who had made a failure of his life, and was
without the dignity conferred by an accumulation of property,
should be able to make Mary Victoria unhappy.  Well-favoured, no
doubt!  Victoria, who was superior to the magnetism of sex, had
declared that Martin was well-favoured enough, with his slender
height, his flat brown hair, and his brilliant eyes, to turn the
head of a girl who had resisted the fiery glances of Balkan blades.

With these roving thoughts in his mind, he watched the anxious
flicker in Victoria's look, and heard her ask her daughter with
grave reproach, "Isn't Martin going down with your father, dear?"

"Yes, he was ready before I was, but he stopped to put down a
phrase that came to him in the night.  He is doing some short
stories of Americans in Paris."

"It is a pity you can't persuade him to keep better hours."

"I never try to persuade men, mother dear.  Think of all the ages
in which women depended upon persuasion, and what did they get out
of it?"

"I don't know."  Mrs. Littlepage stirred wearily in her chair, for
it seemed to her that she had been sitting on edge since the dawn
of creation.  "I should think that they got a good deal out of it
if they wanted."

"That is the very reason I refuse to do it, mother," Mary Victoria
rejoined plaintively.  "The old feminine way was insincere and
indirect.  I determined that our marriage should be founded upon
perfect candour."

"Well, I am not going down in the car," Mr. Littlepage said, as he
rose from the table.  "I would rather walk on a fine morning."
Ever since Mary Victoria's return, he had breathed the inclement
air of perfect candour, and he told himself that to-day he
preferred not to drive down the street in its company.  There was
much to be said, he felt at this particular moment, in favour of
the imperfect feminine deceit of the past.  Whatever its failings,
he had found it more restful at breakfast, and less inclined to
retard the natural processes of digestion.  Though he was prepared,
however reluctantly, to take his daughter's side against Milly
Burden, he decided, while he acknowledged Martin's inattentive
"good-morning," that moderation in a wife is second only to
chastity.  For the first time in his enviable career, it occurred
to him that intemperate virtue is almost as disastrous in marriage
as temperate vice.  Passion, he supposed, explained, even if it
failed to excuse, Martin's whole misadventure with life; but
passion could scarcely account for the harmful moral activities of
Mary Victoria.

"I hope your headache is quite gone," Mrs. Littlepage was saying
sympathetically to Martin.

"Yes, it is quite gone, thank you."

"Virginius likes to walk to his office, but I shall be glad to drop
you at the bank on my way to market."

"That's very kind of you, but I'd rather walk, too."

"I should have thought you'd had enough of that last night," Curle
began in the aggressive tone he reserved for the nonconformist mind
in general.  "You looked pretty well fagged out when you came in at
one o'clock."

"I get restless when I am writing, and I am obliged to walk it off.
Sometimes I used to roam the streets of Paris until daybreak."

"Well, nobody roams in Queenborough.  We have learned here that a
straight line is the shortest way between two ends.  If you don't
look sharp, they'll think you demented."

An angry flash passed between the two young men, and then Martin
retorted irritably:  "I sometimes think so myself."

Curle laughed unpleasantly.  "As long as you are the only one who
suspects, it makes no difference.  But be careful that you don't
let the rest of us catch on."

"If only Martin and Curle would try to find a point in common!"
Mary Victoria exclaimed.  "Endless scrapping is so futile."

"Yes, scrapping is futile," Mr. Littlepage assented, "and even if
we haven't a point in common, it is not impossible to invent one.
Not many of us are able, like Duncan, to exist comfortably without
points of contact."  Silently he continued:  "I wish I didn't
dislike the fellow so heartily.  I wish, if only for Victoria's
sake, that I could put up with him."  Was it Martin's conduct
alone, he inquired sternly of his conscience, that made the young
man so repugnant to the instincts of a gentleman?  Many men of good
social standing, even in Queenborough, had saved their reputations,
he knew, in similar situations by deserting their lighter loves
from the highest, instead of the lowest, motives.  In the motive of
desertion, as Victoria had so often assured him, there was all the
difference between reform and dishonour.  Any woman, she had
explained with a firm and noble accent, could perceive the fine
distinction between abandoning a woman without reason and forsaking
a vice because you wished to profit by an example of purity.

"Will two clever men ever consent to agree?"  The words floated to
him in the bright, calm voice of his wife; and while he met her
kind and charming glance, he comforted himself with the reflection
that wherever she lived and moved and shed her sweetness of nature,
there would be harmony.


As Mr. Littlepage stepped briskly across the street, it seemed to
him that the variable moods of the morning had melted into a state
of cheerful expectancy.  Rain had fallen last evening, and the
world sparkled as freshly as if it had been created at dawn.
Overhead, beyond motionless boughs, the blue sky appeared to be
dissolving in light, while pale clusters of shadows lay like a
false spring bloom on the grass in Mrs. Dalrymple's garden.

After all, it was a good old world, Mr. Littlepage thought
hopefully, slackening his pace as he recognized the sphinx-like
shape of the Persian cat on the doorstep.  Everything about Mrs.
Dalrymple's house was disposed, with the lady herself, to appeal to
the softer masculine moods.  Wide, low, luxurious in setting, with
its round white columns and its polished door beneath the fanlight
of amber glass, the dwelling presided hospitably over its borders
of miniature boxwood.  Even the sleek Persian cat, striped like a
tiger, reminded Mr. Littlepage of the purring grace of its
mistress.  Though the cat was too reserved in manner to attract his
gregarious nature, and he felt usually the indifference of the
Southern gentleman to any creature who could not make light
conversation, there was to-day a fascination for him in the
detached yet affable air with which the dignified animal rose at
his approach.  In the last few weeks, the world in which Mrs.
Dalrymple lived, had become a sphere of more intense and vivid
reality.  This was the world, he felt, that he had always longed to
inhabit.  After seeing Amy Dalrymple, he would forget for hours
that he was middle-aged, and he would linger over his work with the
feeling that some beautiful and satisfying experience awaited him.
Then the warmth would die down; the endless tedium of life would
envelop his soul; and he would recite all the proverbs that
sanctify marriage and civilize the vagabond ways of the heart.
After all, this would pass.  False spring would be over.  Desire,
that hardy annual, must come to an end; and this sense of having
lost something infinitely precious that he had never possessed
would fade as inevitably as his desire.  But, on this genial winter
morning, slackening his pace before Mrs. Dalrymple's house, he
felt, with a hurt and bewildered astonishment, that he was
struggling against forces he could not understand.  Why has it
happened like this?  Where am I drifting?  As a husband and a
lawyer he had respected all the institutions and practised all the
rules that civilization imposed.  After a sober and well-spent
youth, just as he was settling into the evergreen monotony of the
middle years, was he becoming the victim of one of those fateful
passions that destroy husbands and make poets?  In his office, with
an engrossing legal problem before him, he could command his
attention; but as soon as he passed out into the world, he was lost
again in that restless undercurrent beneath the shifting surface of
life.  He had known Mrs. Dalrymple for many years; and after his
first brief infatuation, he had dismissed her from his mind as a
light and pretty woman whom a man might love for an hour and forget
in the morning.  Yet he realized now that no other woman, with the
exception of Victoria in her youth, had moved him so long and so
deeply.  The age of love had come and gone, and through it all he
had felt nothing stronger than pleasure or more lasting than
impulse.  Life, he saw now, had marched by him while he had
lingered among shadows that he called the things of the mind.  It
is true that he had been tranquil, that he had believed himself to
be satisfied.  But now in a week, in a day, in an hour, an
ordinary, almost a commonplace woman, with nothing unusual about
her except her vitality, had changed the whole of existence.  Well-
preserved, no doubt, but cast in a shallow mould and already
beginning to break.  In a few more years, the living ardour, the
vital warmth, which quickened his senses to this false spring,
would die away, with that transfiguring glow, into ashes.  When he
thought of her this morning he could remember nothing that she had
ever said, nothing that she had ever meant, beyond this eloquent
response, this extraordinary animation of soul.  Yet so intense had
his hidden desire become in his life that it haunted all the
trivial actualities and made the rest of experience no more real
than phantoms.

Whenever he paused to moralize, which he did but seldom, it seemed
to him incredible that this adventure of the heart should have
happened to him and not to Marmaduke, who was so obviously designed
to be an enemy to society.  It would even have appeared ridiculous
to him had there been any circumstances in which a man could appear
ridiculous to himself.  Everything, people, objects, occasions, all
reminded him of Amy Dalrymple's smile.  Frequently in the street he
was arrested by a resemblance to her in some passing woman, in a
walk, in a carriage of the head, in a provocative gesture, in the
gay and musical notes of a voice.  He had scoffed at youth for its
rashness, its vehemence, its lack of proper control, its selfish
preoccupation with a solitary emotion; and now, at fifty-seven, in
the fugitive sunshine of autumn, he had plunged into the kind of
catastrophe that only the young and inexperienced can call
happiness.  Like this false spring in winter, like the blossoming
plants and the hungry mouths of nature, or like that grim reaper of
his mother's favourite poem, love appeared to demand all seasons
for its own, as well as its peculiar time to fade and fall.  What
if, in the end, Louisa and contemporary literature should prove to
be right, and the ideal of chivalry should be preserved only as a
psychological fossil?  Louisa, who had gone as far, he decided, as
it was safe to go without puncturing the balloon of civilization,
had reduced all the ancient perils of society to the white-slave
traffic and the predatory instincts of the male.  Though this point
of view interested him as an argument, it was repugnant, he felt,
to every civilized sentiment.  For, in common with other men, he
was cold to the white-slave traffic; and he clung stubbornly to the
belief that, since man is not responsible for his own nature, he
had probably suffered more than Louisa from the harmful instincts
of the male sex.  Moderation, he sighed pensively.  Would good
women, of whom his world contained so generous a share, ever learn
the value of moderation?  Yet, surely, even in its extremity,
virtue commanded the respect of every right-thinking mind.
Moreover, if respect were a sentiment that ruled the world, or even
rocked the cradle, he knew that Louisa, not Mrs. Dalrymple, should
be the proper dispenser of his delight.  Compared to Louisa's
gallant baying at shadows, he could not deny that Mrs. Dalrymple's
voice was as frivolous as the coo of a turtle-dove.  Only, like
every other legitimate son of Adam, he preferred a coo to a bay.

He was approaching the Vigilant Club (that stern-fronted building
had started this train of reflection), and just as he reached the
gate, the imposing door opened, and Louisa, bearing her portfolio,
tripped down the steps.  Catching sight of him, she called his name
with her wonted enthusiasm.

"Oh, Virginius, I am so glad of this opportunity!  There is an
important matter I wish to consult you about."

Here, he reflected, while he grasped her hand, was one of the most
deserving women of his acquaintance.  Here, indeed, was a woman so
superior that his regard for her was as unenterprising as his
respect for the Ten Commandments.  Tall, slender, still handsome
for her age, and as erect as a moral principle, she smiled at him
with that mingling of good sense and good humour which ought to
have been, only it was not, as alluring as coquetry.  Beneath her
smart black hat, her waving iron-grey hair shone with a silver
gloss; her eyes sparkled with pleasure through her discreet
glasses; her firm brown skin, in which even the wrinkles went
upward, looked not so much youthful in texture as impervious to
age.  Everything about her was bright and positive and earnest; and
he observed, with an inward smile, that her features wore an
expression of faint surprise, as if the mysteries of Babylon had
left her in a state of perpetual astonishment.  For a reformer, he
considered her unusually good-looking.  Her face was not, like Mrs.
Burden's, an act of God, but was still agreeable enough to tempt
any man, if there existed one who did not think that he was too
young for her.  For some years now she had been the only thorn in
his comforting theory that bachelors make themselves while
Providence makes spinsters.  In spite of her intelligence, Louisa
had received, he knew, at least half a dozen dubious proposals of
marriage, as well as several desirable offers of an established
position and an ample income.  Even from the chivalrous angle, it
was impossible to think of her as discarded by life.  First and
last, he admitted, she excelled as a good sport; and he was
sufficiently generous to admire a good sport even in the
inappropriate disguise of a spinster.  It was true, as he promptly
amended, that her type was not the one he preferred.  Her whole
appearance, fine, distinguished, and slightly inquisitive, was not
formed, like the rambler-rose of Mrs. Dalrymple's face and
temperament, to attract the despoiler.  No, Louisa appeared, he
summed up hastily, exactly what she was in character, a woman of
independent spirit, who knew her world and was capable of finding
her way.

"I had planned to see you this morning, Virginius.  For the last
few weeks, ever since that first visit to Mrs. Burden, I have not
been easy in my mind about Victoria."

"You mean--"

"I mean she has been over-exerting herself.  This trouble about
Milly Burden has been a great strain on her.  Victoria gives so
much sympathy.  She never thinks of herself."

"It would be better sometimes if she did.  I'm afraid we've got
into the habit of taking advantage of her unselfishness."

"She has always been so energetic; but ever since that attack of
pneumonia she has not seemed like herself.  I wish you would try to
persuade her to be more saving of her strength."

"I'll try, of course, though she won't listen.  There isn't anybody
in the world whose advice means so little to her as mine," he added
on a playful note.

"I am sure you are mistaken, Virginius."  Sadness had stolen in a
brown mist over the sunny hazel of Louisa's eyes.  "She thinks you
are the most wonderful man in the world."

"That, my dear friend, is her only weakness."  His tone was still
light, for he was always a little embarrassed by Louisa's clear but
short views of life.  Though she was not wanting in humour, she
seemed unable to apply its sharpened edge either to persons whom
she admired or to principles that she respected.  Standing beside
her in the tempered sunlight, which glittered over her like
varnish, he studied her intelligent features a moment before he
continued.  "But you are right.  The time has come when she should
begin to think of herself."

"No one realizes that, Virginius, more than I do.  Even as a
child," she added, with a quiver in her competent voice, "from the
first winter after her family came to Queenborough, I have always
adored her."

"Everyone has adored her."  A flush darkened his smooth skin, for,
unlike Louisa, who blushed only at facts, he was more sensitive to
words than to deeds.  "It may be because she exacts so little.  I
sometimes think that she is the least exacting woman on earth."

"It is a great happiness to hear you say that.  No man ever had a
better wife, and I am sure that no woman ever had a truer friend
that Victoria has been to me."

"She is devoted to you.  Yours has been a wonderful friendship, and
it has made me ask myself, now and then, if men really know
anything about women."

As she nodded over her portfolio, he thought irrelevantly of a
sparrow pecking a crumb.  "Not about women in themselves, only
about women in relation to men."  Then her tone lost its authority,
and she said in a whisper of agitation, "I'm afraid this affair has
been almost too much for her.  It is not only the tragic
circumstances of Milly Burden.  I think the greatest blow has been
the discovery that Martin is seeing the girl again."

"She didn't tell me until this morning."

"That was like her.  She was afraid of distracting your mind from
those important cases.  But I know that she has been very much
worried over it."

"I wish you had gone with her to Mrs. Burden's, Louisa."

"I didn't know of that first visit until after she came home.  Once
or twice since then we have stopped at the house for a minute; but
we have never noticed any sign that Martin had been there."

A look of distress sharpened his features, and it seemed to her
that his face was suddenly refined and ennobled.  "Yes, I'm afraid
you're right.  The whole thing has been too great a strain on her."

"The strain and shock together.  You know how she feels about Mary
Victoria, especially at this time, and she has got the idea into
her head that the child's happiness is threatened."

He frowned.  "If it wasn't ruined before it began."

"You and I feel that way."  Her complete sympathy enveloped him.

"Even Victoria must understand that no marriage could endure on
such a--a rotten foundation."

"She does understand it.  That is a part of her anxiety.  Mothers
are made that way.  They suffer again in the life of every child."

"In a lecture you would call that an extension of the ego."

"But this isn't a lecture.  It is--"

"Oh, I know what it is!" he had begun, in his whimsical vein, and
with scarcely a change of tone, he added after a pause, "And I used
to consider Mary Victoria a sensible girl."

"No girl is sensible when she is in love," Louisa replied; and he
asked himself, with a twinge of irritation, if she had merely
repeated one of Victoria's soundest platitudes?  Why was it, he
inquired almost resentfully, that every thing he knew or thought or
examined, persons, opinions, objects, all issued from Victoria,
like rays diverging from some vital but passive centre of
experience?  Nothing that she said was ever original; yet it was
always repeated as a proverb, with the accent of authority.  Though
at middle age she herself was neither beautiful nor interesting,
she was, it appeared, as much admired as she had ever been by the
best minds.  Was this because she was so sensible in her views that
she had become in time the voice of established conviction?  Or was
it because when she spoke of herself as "advanced" in her opinions,
she meant always advanced in the right direction?  Ah, that was the
word he needed, there was the label!  Since she was advanced enough
to be modern and conservative enough to be safe, she had become a
power for good in the community.  All the forces of progress that
still feared the strange and the new had assembled behind her.

"Well, it looks as if Mary Victoria would have to come to her
senses," he said, with decision.  "If the fellow is unfaithful to
her, the sooner she discovers it, the better it will be for her."

"She might at least be spared," rejoined Louisa, whose courage,
unlike his, was equal, in conversation at least, to the extremity
of birth, "while she is expecting a child."

Her colour did not change while she watched the becoming flush
mantle Mr. Littlepage's suave features.  If he had looked into her
straight and narrow mind, where every idea, old or new, was neatly
labelled and placed in its proper category, he would have surprised
merely a bright wonder that men should be so timid about facing the
facts of life.  "That is what makes Victoria so anxious," she
explained fearlessly.  "A shock at this time might be so harmful."

"She is right of course.  She is always right."  Though the words
were as much as any paragon of wisdom could expect from a man,
there was a ruffled sound, the merest hint of annoyance, in his
agreeable voice.

"She never admits that Mary Victoria has a fault," Louisa reminded
him.  "One of Victoria's most beautiful qualities is loyalty.  She
can see no flaw in anyone that she loves."

This also, he admitted readily, was nothing more than the truth.
Praise, however superlative, never sounded effusive when it was
lavished upon a good woman.  He had won a perfect wife, he told
himself once again, and the fault was in his spiritual part if he
longed for something more--or was it something less?--than

Assuredly, he had everything that any husband has a right to
expect; and yet, as he had sufficient reason to know, any husband
is uncertain alloy rather than pure metal.  There was, for example,
the attraction of mystery.  For mystery, though frowned upon by
reformers, is still an indestructible element in the desires of the

"You and I," he said sincerely, "can find no flaw in Victoria."
Then, dropping his gravity as easily as if it were a handkerchief,
he added in the softer accents of chivalry, "You ought to have
married, Louisa.  It is a great regret to me that you could not
make allowances for Marmaduke's temperament."

To his astonishment a vivid blush stained her cheek.  What was
there, he wondered, in his harmless remark about marriage that
could embarrass a spinster who had confronted so unflinchingly the
naked fact of birth?

"We should never have suited each other, Virginius," she answered
in her gentlest voice.  "As it is, I have been quite happy.  I do
not feel that I have missed anything."

"You are too fine a woman not to have made some man a good wife."
How windy that sounded, how hollow.  Yet it was the sort of thing,
he insisted defiantly to himself, that every unattached woman
expected from a married man a generation ago.

"I have been quite, quite satisfied," Louisa repeated, as if she
were determined to convince him of the truth.  "You and Victoria
have meant more to me than I can ever make you believe.  Your
children have been as dear to me as if they had been my own."

Gratitude moistened his eyes as he looked at her.  "You are a noble
woman," he answered, with feeling.  "I cannot think what Victoria
and I should have done without you.  From the beginning, as she
often reminds me, you have been a rock to lean on."

Again that girlish flush dyed her smooth brown skin.  "I would do
anything in the world," she responded, "for Victoria and you and
the children.  But you must not think that my life is not so full
as I wish it to be."

"Mustn't I?"  He smiled playfully.  "Well, you ought to have been a
man, Louisa."

Her dark eyebrows sprang up in amazement; but she retorted good-
humouredly, "And you ought to have been a woman, Virginius."

He frowned.  "Do you mean that I am too fussy?"

"Not in the least.  Do you mean that I am too bold?"  Then, while
he was searching his less nimble mind for an answer, she continued
with the moral earnestness which was, in his opinion, her most
pronounced feminine attribute, "Please try not to be flippant.  It
is a very serious situation."

"Then you and Victoria must handle it.  I am not at home in serious

"We have done all we could, and apparently it isn't enough.  The
only thing now is for you to speak to Milly Burden."

"Speak to Milly?  Why, I speak to her fifty times in a day."

"But not about Mary Victoria's husband."

"No, thank God, there are other things to be said."

"But you will," she pleaded urgently, "speak to her now?"

His frown deepened.  "I am willing to speak to her, but I haven't
the slightest idea what I could say."

"Well, you could warn her--couldn't you?--that she is pursuing an
unfair and dangerous course?"

Still frowning, he broke into an angry laugh.  "Has it ever
occurred to you that she might retort, 'Dangerous for whom?'"

"It is impossible to appeal to her moral sense?"

"I have never tried; but there again she might reply that you can't
grasp a moral sense by both ends."

"I have never known you to be so sarcastic, Virginius."

"I am not sarcastic, I am merely honest.  These different accents
have a way of sounding alike."

Louisa glanced swiftly away, and then back again at his look of
ruddy indignation, which was very becoming.  "After all, he is your
daughter's husband, Virginius."

"That isn't my fault.  Mary Victoria married him, I didn't.  My
advice, even as a lawyer, was not consulted."

"But the fact that she is his wife means a great deal.  Doesn't the
whole structure of society rest upon the institution of marriage?"

"I used to think so; but that was before I discovered that it rests
much more firmly upon the institution of hypocrisy.  Have you
never, in the last forty years, changed your opinions, Louisa?"

She looked at him anxiously.  "Oh, often, but never about moral
values.  I regard marriage as reverently as I used to do.  In spite
of the emancipation of women, I believe you have changed more than
I.  The shock of Mary Victoria's marriage did a great deal to upset

"More than anything that ever happened," he confessed, "more than
the war, more than poor Aunt Agatha's past.  You see, I had pinned
my faith on Mary Victoria's goodness.  I don't mean on her virtue
alone, but on her honour, her unselfishness, and her sense of fair
play.  I imagined that she was what other women might become after
they had helped men to solve the problem of--yes, of sex."

"And you think now?"  The question was uttered with a sigh; for
Louisa also had known her hopes and her secret disappointments.

"I've stopped thinking.  But I can't see, when I look round me,
that you have invented anything better than the wasp-waist and the
perfect lady."

"You mustn't judge every woman by Mary Victoria, and you mustn't
judge her too harshly.  She was desperately in love, you know."

"Then you've simply come round again in the old vicious circle.
You are fair to each other until you both happen to want the same
man.  When you fall in love, you still fight it out in the jungle.
No, it seems to me that poor Aunt Agatha was more civilized.  She
was too genteel--too proud, if you please, to fight over a man."

Louisa shook her head.  "I can't argue with you, Virginius.  But
you must admit that poor Aunt Agatha is better off to-day than she
was in the Victorian era."

"She has escaped from solitary confinement to the moving picture.
But does that mean anything more than that she is too elderly to be
dangerous?  What about Milly Burden to-day?"

"Why, she has fared very well.  In the nineteenth century, you
could never have kept her in your office.  Even to-day, you
couldn't have done that if Victoria had not been an angel."

"I grant that, especially what you say of Victoria.  The trouble
is, I suppose, that I am still too much of an idealist.  When youth
was in the saddle, I expected, or at least I hoped, that it would
ride toward the dawn."

Louisa's face softened.  "Yes, you are an idealist.  But isn't it
unfair to ask of the good women who are really helping the world,
the women, I mean, of ennobling influence, like Victoria and Mary
Victoria, that they should encourage the others, who are--who are--"

Again that angry tone ruffled his voice.  "You may be right about
Victoria, and even about Mary Victoria, but you are wrong about
Milly Burden.  She is one of the best women I know," he asserted
defiantly.  "There is something about her that reminds me of you."

To his astonishment, and he reflected that women, even the more
sensible ones, are indeed unaccountable creatures, Louisa failed to
resent the comparison.  Instead the shadow of a smile crossed her
face, and she asked with interest, "And what is that something,

"I can't tell exactly what.  A kind of--well, a kind of steady
courage in facing reality.  She is the bravest woman I've ever

He had expected not only dissent, but imperative contradiction, and
he was puzzled, an instant later, by the softened wonder in
Louisa's expression.  "I can't understand you, Virginius," she said
presently.  "You talk almost like Marmaduke."

"Perhaps we have more in common than I imagined.  We both inherit
wild roses and snowy landscapes."

She looked bewildered but emphatic.  "Don't you think you may need
a change after those hard cases?  Now that you have won them both,
couldn't you take a rest?"

"Oh, I am resting.  All I do in the office is to put my brisk young
men to work."  Then, changing his tone, he asked abruptly, "Is
Victoria really disturbed?"

"She is anxious, and I think fearful that a break may come while
Mary Victoria is in this condition.  Of course, everything has
looked darker since she discovered that Martin has been visiting

"Well, I refuse to credit that even now.  Milly is an honest woman,
and she is no longer infatuated.  She told me only a few weeks ago
that she hated the very sound of his name."

"My dear Virginius, she may do that and still be in love with him.
The trouble with you lawyers is that you try to reduce love to
logic, and it has never been done since the dawn of creation.  This
isn't a point of view, you must remember, but a mortal passion.  It
is neither old nor new, for it is an everlasting purpose."

"If you wish it," he said impulsively, "I will ask Milly if she
ever sees him."

"Well, ask her.  As long as she has nothing to lose, she may tell
you the truth."

"Oh, I can trust her to tell me the truth," he replied, with a
stronger confidence in his voice than he felt in his heart.


All day, while the energetic young men of the firm asked his advice
or obeyed his commands, Mr. Littlepage sat in his private office
and meditated, in the lull between cases, upon the problems of
life.  Instead of decreasing, it seemed to him that these problems,
especially the more sentimental ones, which might naturally be
expected to diminish with age, had thickened like shadows in the
declining sun of his years.  Not only had his autumnal romance
absorbed all the glamour and beauty of youth; but since his
significant talk with Louisa, he had suffered from an aching pity
for Mary Victoria.  Judge her as harshly as he dared, she was still
his only daughter, and he was paternal by nature.  Though none of
his children had given him the companionship that he craved, he was
the last man in the world to discard the obligations of blood.
Well, life was like that, he supposed, and the obligations could be
depended upon to outlast the pleasures.  Had any man, had even
Methuselah, ever really had what he wanted?  Women, perhaps, won
their way; but this was because they expected less from mortal
experience, as well as from the opposite sex.  They accepted life
as it is; they were the only pragmatic philosophers.  Victoria, for
example, had acquiesced in foregone conclusions; she had been
content with what came to her; she had never defied the tyranny of
appearances that wars against happiness.  Yes, Victoria had known
how to live.  Except for the loss of her children in infancy and
this disastrous affair of Mary Victoria's, she might have been
perfectly happy.  Even Mary Victoria's marriage, he suspected, had
not appeared hopeless to her until she had watched Martin rushing
at twilight in the obscure direction of Juniper Hill.  And yet, in
spite of Victoria's alarm, he told himself that Martin's adventure
may not have been serious.  In the good old days, when people had
proper ideals and marriage was respected, men had stolen or rushed,
according to their habits of mind or the elasticity of their
arteries, in the pursuit of every glittering delight; yet nobody,
least of all the unfaithful husband, had considered that any
institution was menaced.  But, menaced or not, he decided at last,
he could do nothing about it.

Late in the afternoon, when Milly brought him a pile of letters, he
looked at her with an unspoken question, while he entreated the law
of precedent to provide him with an auspicious beginning.  Every
minute that he wasted made the task, he knew, only the more
difficult; for when he looked back, he was reminded that Milly
had never responded successfully to even the most delicate
interrogation.  At the first direct question, he was prepared to
see that soft, inscrutable reserve spread in a silken mask over her
features.  Only her eyes, strangely living and defiant, would still
flicker like blue fires beneath her winged eyebrows.  To be sure,
his mission had appeared simple enough in the keen, dry air of
Louisa's intelligence.  Asking questions, however impertinent, was
easy to a mind, undeterred by moral weakness, that enjoyed doing
its duty.  Here in his office, however, with Milly sitting there so
quietly, his resolution was no longer as clear as sunlight shining
through glass.  That transparent certainty, he realized now, had
sprung, not from his own, but from Louisa's unshakable purpose.
With his dignified head bent over his desk, thinking, thinking,
while he played with his pen, he knew that he could never speak
aloud the question that was gnawing its way through his thoughts.
Yet all he had to do was to look straight into Milly's eyes and ask
quietly:  "Do you ever see Martin?  Did you see Martin last night?"

Lifting his glance from the paper, he said suddenly,

"It feels like spring, Milly."

She looked beyond him and over the bare boughs to the western sky.
"Yes, it feels like spring."

"You ought to get out of doors.  You look tired."

"I was up last night.  Mother had neuralgia."

"I am sorry to hear that.  Is she better?"

"Yes, she's all right.  It was the kind of neuralgia that comes
when she is in low spirits."

"I hope she has had nothing new to depress her?"

"Nothing new?  No, there isn't anything new.  She is still worrying
because father didn't do his duty to her."

"Well, I'm glad she wasn't worrying about you.  I thought, perhaps,
you had told her you were going away."

Milly looked at him gravely.  "Oh, that isn't new.  She has worried
over that for the last year."

"Do you really think you are going away, Milly?"

Her eyes left him and wandered again to the sky.  "I am going as
soon as I can," she replied slowly.

"You want to get away, then, as much as ever?"  Was he nearer her
secret?  Did she suspect that he was sounding her heart for the
violence of her old passion?

"Oh, more than ever!" her voice quivered with longing.  "I want to
go more than ever."

"Is there, my child, a particular reason?"

"Isn't there," she hesitated, with suspended breath, while her gaze
clung to the sky, "a particular reason for--everything?"

He took up his pen, wrote his name at the end of a letter, and
remarked with a smile, "I am taking things easy to-day."

"You ought to, after all that work.  It was wonderful, winning
those two cases."

"Yes, it was fortunate, but I can feel it, somehow."

"That is because you are tired."  Her face had softened with
interest, and he thought how lovely she would be if she were happy.
Poor child, she had been over a rough road.  It was unfair; it was
deplorable; but Victoria had said that there was nothing they could
do except send her away and provide for her mother.

"Yes, I am tired," he admitted presently, "but after this I shall
begin to take things easier.  I refuse to drop dead from overwork
as so many men of my age are doing."

"No, you mustn't."  Her voice was gentle, and she seemed attentive,
but there was, he thought, a shimmering vagueness about her.

"You ought to take up some other interest, too, Milly.  Have you
ever wanted to try golf?"

"No, that wouldn't help."

"What would help, my dear?"

"Oh, I don't know."  The light died in her face and she looked away
again.  "Nothing, I suppose."

"I'll do anything to help you," he said, with genuine emotion.

"Well, help me to get away.  All I want in the world is to go

"We are helping you.  Mrs. Littlepage will look after your mother,
and I've already arranged about that position in New York.  Much as
I shall hate to lose you, I'll do everything that I can.  After
all, it may be for the best."

"It is for the best, if only mother will see it."

"Perhaps, after a while, she will be reasonable.  The old must
learn that they cannot stand in the way of the young."

"She cries about it all the time when she isn't crying about
something else.  I may have to go without telling her."

"Well, wait a few weeks.  Give her a little time, and she may take
a more cheerful view."

Milly shook her head.  "No, she'll never take a cheerful view.  She
never has in her life.  She thinks they are wrong."

"That is unfortunate," he concluded, though he was aware that the
concession went no deeper than his throat, "but, after all, she is
your mother."

"Does that give her the right," Milly demanded passionately, "to
ruin my life?"

He looked vaguely troubled.  "I thought you had forgotten that old
senseless charge, Milly.  At least, you owe her some consideration
for having brought you into the world."

"I had no choice.  I did not ask to be born."

"You are unreasonable, my dear.  Didn't she look after you and
bring you up when your father deserted you?"

"Oh, he would have taken me, but she wouldn't let him.  He used to
send us something as long as he lived.  Of course, she did her
duty," she continued recklessly, "but I despise the word 'duty'!"

He frowned and shook his head.  "I don't know what the world is
coming to, my child.  Have you really no spark of affection left
for your mother?"

For a long moment, Milly pondered the question.  "I am sorry for
her," she said at last, "but I don't like her.  I never liked her,
not even when I was little."

Mr. Littlepage gazed at her with startled wonder--or was it horror?--
in his expression.  "Your own mother!  It seems incredible.  But
so many things that I once thought incredible have become mental
habits with the younger generation."

"I should hate to think that she was in want," Milly said
thoughtfully, after a longer and deeper reflection.  "I am willing
to work for her, but I cannot live with her.  If I knew that I
should never have to live with her," she continued in a voice of
desperate calmness, "I might even begin to be fond of her."

"In a measure I can understand," Mr. Littlepage replied, with his
judicial manner.  "In any case, it is useless to pretend that
family ties are as strong as they used to be."

Milly looked at him so steadily that he glanced, in his turn, at
the western sky.  "Haven't family ties," she asked, "always made
more trouble than any other thing in the world?"

"I don't know, my child."  She had drawn his gaze back to her.  "In
my youth we were taught that only monsters were without family
feeling.  No matter what the family was, the feeling was supposed
to be there."

She laughed.  "Well, perhaps I am a monster; but even if I am a
monster, I am real.  I know you can't force yourself to love
people.  You can only pretend."

"Much of the old family feeling was, no doubt, a sham; but I dare
say it was useful in creating an illusion of stability.  But did
you," he asked more sternly, "never love anyone but this unworthy
young man?"

Again she pondered his question.  "I loved father when I was
little, but he couldn't live with us."

"He deserted your mother most cruelly.  A decent man," Mr.
Littlepage declared, with warmth, "does not desert his wife,
especially when he has nothing against her."

"Nothing but duty.  He couldn't live with mother's duty.  Nobody
could.  Even I couldn't; and I've been so unhappy that you would
think I could live with almost anything."

"Yes, you have been unhappy," he assented, with feeling, "but are
you wrong to insist that your mother ruined your life.  Wasn't that
your own doing?"

Milly's lips closed more firmly, while that deep blue flame in her
eyes flickered and died down.  "No, I didn't ruin it," she answered
slowly.  "I didn't ruin it."

Though this shocked him, he was prepared for her unreconciled
attitude.  After all, people to-day were more hopeful about
everything, he reminded himself, than they used to be, even about
ruined lives and eternal damnation.  Perhaps Marmaduke was right,
and the Victorians had made too much fuss about souls, especially
lost ones.

"I've always believed that you are a good girl, Milly," he said,
with stronger sympathy but weaker conviction.

She looked at him gravely while she fingered her pencil.  "Mother
wouldn't agree with you.  She used to tell me about a murderess who
was hanged in sixty-something for killing three persons, and she
never failed to remark, 'But she wasn't a bad woman.'"

"I know," he returned a little grimly.  "They used to feel that
way.  However," he added in a lighter tone, "I still think you a
good girl."

Her lips twitched in mockery.  "You mean because I've never
forgotten anybody but myself?"

"Yes, I suppose it is something like that."

"Well, mother thinks exactly the opposite.  According to what she
was taught, you may hurt anybody you please, you may even commit
murder and be hanged for it, but you are still an honest woman so
long as you haven't forgotten yourself."

"Is anything sacred to you, Milly?" he asked abruptly.

Her face grew stern.  "Truth would be, if I could find it.  Truth
that you could really believe in, not just shams and labels."

"Well, it wouldn't matter if you were happy.  But you aren't

"Oh, I'm happy."  The flame leaped up again in gay derision.
"Isn't everybody happy?"

"Some are happier than others."

"I know," she said, with sudden earnestness.  "The happy ones are
those who have found something worth loving."  Then rising from her
chair, she stood attentive, composed, competent.  "Is that all?"
she asked in an expressionless voice.

"Yes, that is all."  Looking at his watch, he remembered that he
had promised to drop in and advise Mrs. Dalrymple about her future.
He thought of the friendly and cheerful room, warm in colour,
fragrant with cedar-logs.  He thought of her, as she awaited him,
soft, glowing, submissive, with her hair that was still golden, her
eyes that were like dark flowers in moonlight, her fruity
mellowness that reminded him of the bloom on a sun-ripened peach.
Ah, there was a woman who knew men!  There was a woman who had made
of love a delight, not a disaster!  There, in that glowing room,
was rest alike from moral indecision and mental exertion!

"Yes, that is all," he repeated in a tone that was vibrant with
hope.  Not until Milly had taken the letters and closed the door
after her did it occur to him that he had never asked her the one
question he wished her to answer.  What he knew of Martin's
infidelity was exactly as much as he had known when she came into
the room.


Mrs. Dalrymple was alone when he entered, and while she rose from
her inviting sofa and trailed toward him in a tea-gown of pale
yellow chiffon, he breathed in the intoxicating perfume of her
emotion.  Ah, if only woman had consented to remain the delight and
the relaxation of man!  Everything in the room was soft, restful,
flattering to masculine vanity, and kind to the tarnishing flight
of the years.  In that fire-coloured glamour, Mrs. Dalrymple's
charm was still magical.  While he held her large white hand, which
was a trifle too plump but as soft as a flower, he heard, above the
tumult in his heart, the restless murmuring like a far-off cluster
of honey-bees.  A burning sweetness, an effervescent delight,
rippled from his touch to his senses.  From the harsh complexities
of modern life, from the fleshless bones of moral problems, he was
sinking back deliciously into the dreamless slumber of pleasures
that are not too important.  It was agreeable to discover that
nothing, least of all the bidding of conscience, which decreed that
his duty was elsewhere, had altered in Mrs. Dalrymple's company.
For the hour, he was living again in a man's world.  Mrs.
Dalrymple, notwithstanding her war record, was still a woman whom
one desired but did not respect.  What a help, what a support are
definite classifications, he reflected, as he sat down beside her,
and defended his masculine courage from his legal precaution.  Had
Mrs. Dalrymple been a good woman; had she been even a perfect lady,
serious complications might have ensued.  Not only might a sense of
duty have preceded him in her affections, but the solid burden of
responsibility might have dampened, if it had not extinguished, the
pure delight of his senses.  It was encouraging to remember (though
he was chivalrous at heart) that he was not responsible for what
happened, that he was not even involved, except remotely, as the
husband of some other woman.  For, as every gentleman of the
Victorian era was well aware, he could not become involved, except
remotely, with a woman who had first forgotten herself with
somebody else.  All that was expected of a man, if he were
profligate, was to enjoy and forget, or, after the habit of Mr.
Littlepage, if he were temperate, was to enjoy and regret.

Sitting there in that rosy glamour, he found that instead of
profiting by the occasion in a way which would meet the
requirements of contemporary fiction, he was seduced into
meditation upon the perishable nature of woman's attraction.  At a
distance, he had longed passionately, with all the heated fervour
of youth, for this moment; but basking now in the warm firelight,
he told himself that he had no intention of being faithless to his
vows of monogamy.  Once again, in spite of his vehement desires, he
found that habit, as a controlling motive, is superior to impulse.
Once again, he said to himself, with his sombre eyes on the ripened
fruit of Mrs. Dalrymple's bosom, he was doomed to hesitate and fail
on the very brink of fulfilment.

While he hesitated, Mrs. Dalrymple, who had decided long ago that
the tastes of Southern gentlemen are languishing, raised her eyes
to his flushed features and began to coo in her most mellifluous
notes.  "If only I could make you realize how much you have helped

"I wish I could have done more," he responded sincerely.  "Anybody
could have given you that advice."

She bowed her head, and the firelight danced over all the amber
waves, from the gleaming crown to the fluffy little curls that
protected her ears.  "I believe I'd rather have them too fast than
too slow," she was thinking, "slowness always makes me so nervous;
but it is perfectly true that the faster they are, the quicker you
lose them.  No matter what anybody tells you," she mused more
deeply, since Mr. Littlepage showed no sign of hurrying his
impulses, "no matter what anybody tells you, nothing compares with
stinginess when it comes to holding a man.  No sooner have you
bound one to you with ties of generosity or pleasure or gratitude,
than some woman with real stinginess appears, and all your labour
goes for naught.  The trouble with me is that I've cheapened myself
from the most generous motives.  It has taken all these years to
teach me that no man ever put the proper value upon a bargain."
Sighing, she continued presently to herself, after a glance at her
companion, "If I had my live to life over again, I'd make it a rule
to give away nothing.  Nothing!  Not an old dress, not a bad penny,
not even a kiss."

"Anybody could have given you that advice," Mr. Littlepage repeated
suddenly, which was exactly what he had said five minutes before.
Slowness had been always, she told herself, the peculiar flaw in
this kind of love-making.  Well, perhaps, for all she had heard to
the contrary, this might prove in the end to be merely another
blessing in disguise.  If he had not been so slow in the past, this
affair might be already over and done with, and then, in the hour
of her greatest necessity, she might have been left stranded for
lovers.  Slow but sure!  Had not those restful traits been paired
off in a proverb?  And after fifty, no matter how well-preserved, a
woman knows how to appreciate staying power in a lover.

Cheered but not enlivened by these reflections, she said aloud in
her softest accents, "You can't imagine how much it has meant to
me.  Even more than your advice, your wonderful sympathy has helped
me to hold up my head."

"Well, you must keep it up now, my dear lady.  There isn't any
reason why you shouldn't.  The world isn't so harsh as it used to

"But I never forget.  No one to look at me would dream I have a
deep nature.  People think that I am volatile because I dance and
go to the cinema.  They don't understand that I am only trying to
escape from myself."

Indeed, indeed.  He looked down at her compassionately while he
patted her hand.  Such sensibility, no doubt, was old-fashioned,
but it was also very feminine.  Even though he preferred the light
to the heavy touch in love-making that involved no serious
responsibility, he was genuinely moved by Mrs. Dalrymple's
confession.  Strange, how he had misjudged her!  Strange, how he
had misjudged anything so obvious as her old affection for him!

"You have been very brave, I know," he said gently, while pity
broke out in a moist heat over his forehead.

"I can't tell you," she murmured presently, "how much it means to
me to find that you haven't forgotten."

"No, I haven't forgotten."  After all, he thought as he looked at
her primrose-coloured draperies, women are more graceful in tea-

"When I went away twelve years ago," she said caressingly, while
she insisted in an inaudible but more positive tone that you
frightened men away if you began to talk about yourself, "I thought
that you no longer respected me."

He shook his head in denial.  "I am sorry.  I feared that we had
made a mistake, but I blamed only myself."

She sighed and wiped a tear from her lashes.  "I was weak, I know,
but I felt that you were so strong."  Was that really too serious?
she wondered.  Or would the epithet "strong," which she had found
so efficacious in turning rabbit souls into lion hearts, quiet the
moral scruples that were now making trouble?

"I blamed only myself," he repeated, which was true as far as it
went.  A pleasant fire ran through his veins and flickered out in
that obscure region where conscience resides.  More years than he
liked to remember had flown since a woman had sighed because he was
too strong for her; and Mr. Littlepage, who knew his own weakness,
felt that strength was the attribute in which he preferred to
excel.  Looking down, in fear rather than reproach, on Mrs.
Dalrymple's curls, and listening to the soft, irregular pulse in
her throat, he found himself regretting the lost capacity of youth
to yield to temptation.  "I suppose I'm not cut out for a
philanderer," some detached, ironic spectator in his mind thought
as clearly as if it occupied a box at a concert.  "After all, few
natural bents are harder to overcome than a fixed habit of
fidelity."  In his private office, or between the cool linen sheets
of his twin bed, he had believed himself to be a match for any
occasion.  But here, in this rosy enchantment, where temptation, as
it seemed to him, was almost too free and bold to be tempting, he
admitted reluctantly that he was inadequate to the exacting, if
silent, demands of a guilty passion.  Though he still desired Mrs.
Dalrymple, he was content, at least for the present, to desire her
less as a happy lover than as a disappointed idealist.  For, in
common with the best masculine taste of the great tradition, he
preferred sin on the stage and elsewhere when it was treated in the
grand manner, with an orchestral accompaniment.  Without musical or
at least dramatic support, he felt that it left one entirely too
much at the mercy of one's appetites; and appetites, though useful
in evolution, are superfluous in the finished product of a Southern

While he reclined there in the firelight, stroking Mrs. Dalrymple's
hand, which reminded him of a particularly large and fine magnolia
blossom, the idea dawned slowly upon him that his respectful manner
of love-making was not giving complete satisfaction.  Though the
last thing he wished for was a costly, or even a complimentary,
affair in his life (having too often arranged the fruits of such
intrigues), he was still as sensitive as other men in his vanity,
and it wounded him to have any woman imagine that he was deficient
in a lower nature.  For the first time, it occurred to him to
regret that a woman with a past, however stimulating to the
emotions, could so seldom be anything else.  The changeable moods
of man were familiar to him; but he told himself now that the
failure of the grande amoureuse was in variety.  He had never known
a woman with a past (except the unwomanly Milly) who seemed to him
to have even the weakest grasp upon either the present or the
future.  Frailty was, no doubt, very attractive; a broken heart
made an irresistible appeal to a chivalrous mind; but, since change
is the only permanent law of our nature, Mr. Littlepage reflected
that even frailty might be expected to harden and broken hearts to
become whole again.  Certainly such a sanguine view of tragedy was
more American, if less romantic.  A passive attitude, even in
repentance, he told himself, was not only out of place in a march
of progress, but impressed the citizens of our Republic as
antiquated and incompetent.

"If only I could see more of you."  Mrs. Dalrymple's inviting tone
broke in upon his meditations like the amorous note of a dove in
the spring.  Had she, once again, she questioned mutely, lost sight
in her folly of the timid nature of lovers?  Had her restless
vitality overleaped her discretion and her expert knowledge of men?
Well, after all, even if he were the only one on her hook, she
reminded herself, with robust but homely wisdom, there are as good
fish in the sea as have ever come out of it.  Though she told
herself that she was prepared to fall in love with him, if the
prospect appeared sufficiently promising, she was under no delusion
as to what the venture might hold for her.  For she had observed
that the law of diminishing returns rules in love as in everything
else.  Like most of her married lovers, Mr. Littlepage, she
surmised, would probably prove to be just rather than generous in
illicit relations, and as careful as other unfaithful husbands to
keep the more durable presents within the family.  Yet, knowing
these things, she sighed again, in obedience to some deep instinct
that was older and wiser than knowledge, "If only I could see more
of you, I should have something to look forward to."

"Couldn't you," he asked gently, "take an interest in some good
work?  In some--cause or charity?"  Much as he disliked
philanthropists, there were situations, he felt, in which one was
compelled to resort to desperate remedies.

She shook her perfectly arranged head, which had been arranged, she
reminded herself, not for philanthropy, but for adventure.  "I
never took any interest in such things."

"Nor do I.  I don't like reformers, but, after all, you need
something to occupy your time.  As Duncan says, we cannot have a
world war every day."

A sigh escaped her.  "Ah, I haven't any life now.  I live entirely
in the past."

"But that's a mistake, my dear lady.  The past, however painful, is
over and done with.  You are young yet.  You are as attractive as
you ever were.  You look every whit as handsome to me as you did
the first time I saw you."

Turning slightly, she enveloped him in one of the celebrated smiles
of the 'nineties.  "I was a beauty--why shouldn't I say it?--in
another period.  We had hearts in those days."

"And they were broken," he answered in a troubled tone, while the
moist heat cooled to chill dampness on his forehead.

Her eyes, as glimmering as twilight, dwelt on him tenderly.  "What
else, my dear, are hearts for?" she asked, with a delicious revival
of last-century archness.

"What else?" he repeated daringly; and reflected that if only she
could sustain her sprightly mood, the evening might become more
agreeable.  Smiling into her dangerous eyes, he thought of all the
ballroom floors and other public places where Mrs. Dalrymple had
held court, as a crowned queen, in the early 'nineties, and he
thought also, though less cheerfully, of the long procession of
Southern gentlemen who had vied with one another for the honour of
holding her bouquet when she danced.  That was, he hastened to
recall, before the noisy scandal of her divorce; for, after the
judicious retreat of her first lover, Southern gentlemen had
flocked to her not in processions, but in single combat, and had
shown a disposition to seek quiet corners rather than crowded
ballrooms.  And then, gradually and imperceptibly, tastes had
altered, and the late Victorian ideal of beauty had gone out of
fashion.  Vanished also, or surviving with a faded splendour, was
the brilliant archness, the irresistible coquetry, which had turned
the more nimble or less solid wits of the nineteenth century.  Yes,
the truth was (he perceived this in the very act of denying it)
that she had had her long and glorious day and was now ending.
Never again, except in the delusive pages of fiction, would the
great Victorian ideal inflame the emotions and the imaginations of

"I thought once you might teach me that."  Her upraised eyes
challenged him while the playful tone of her voice smoothed away
his alarm.  "If only I could see you now and then."

"Of course, you must see me.  It is always," he added, fearful yet
resigned, "a pleasure to see you."

"Queenborough has changed so much that I feel like a stranger.  So
few of my old friends appear to remember me."

"Then you must make new ones.  I told you how highly my daughter
praises your war record."

"Yes, she was kind to me when we were in the Balkans together.  But
I wasn't thinking of the younger generation.  That is friendly
enough.  Only the women I used to know have never forgiven me."

He smiled consolingly.  "They will when you begin to look as old as
they do."  This was the kind of thing, he told himself, that every
woman of her age and experience expected.  For the conversation was
flowing again into the old channels, and nothing more, he knew, was
required of him than a willing surrender to the warm and slow-
moving current.  "After all," he continued, with his whimsical
humour, "you must confess that you never cared much for women."

"No, they didn't seem worth bothering about.  I suppose you would
call me a man's woman.  That may be the reason," she added gravely,
visited by a flash of penetration, "why I had so few friends when I
needed them."

"But men still befriended you."  Though he tried to make his voice
steady, he could not subdue the nervous tremor that afflicted his
mind.  After a quarter of a century, his conscience still accused
him when he remembered her loneliness while the storm broke over
her head.  Such a lovely head it was then and even to-day; so high,
so proud, so like a golden rose in its airy grace.  To be sure, he
had done more than the rest to protect her; but had he, in the face
of his accusing conscience, done all that he could?  While her
guilty lover had dashed for the storm-proof shelter of marriage,
the beauty that allured men for pleasure had failed to hold them,
Mr. Littlepage mused, in the hour of adversity.

"Are men ever more than fair-weather friends to a man's woman?" she
asked, with the capricious gaiety he had never forgotten.

"You know that is not true," he answered, while his reverie warmed
and melted beneath her sprightliness.  "You know that is not true."
Something--was it the transforming glow of the flames or the misty
radiance in her eyes?--awakened the living memory of that August
evening.  As he lost himself in that summer darkness, the old
desire and the old ecstasy drummed again in his pulses.  "You know
that is not true, Amy," he repeated heavily, as if he were in a
trance or asleep.

In another instant he would have embraced his illusion.  In another
instant he would have held out his arms to that misty radiance, to
that startled surprise, which tempted and eluded him in her face.
But, while he reached toward her, in the very flash and pause with
which she surrendered, a trivial incident, as insignificant as the
turning on of a light in the hall, shattered the crystal globe of
the moment.  A bell rang; a step passed; and he heard a messenger
asking a question.

Collecting himself with an effort, he looked at his watch.  "It is
late.  I must go," he said, but his voice was thick and clotted
with longing.

With a gesture, she seemed to put herself in order, to smooth her
shining hair, to reassemble her faculties.  "Must you really go?"

"What else can I do?"

"But you'll come again?"

"Oh, yes, I'll come again.  Haven't I," he asked, with playful
evasion, "always come again?"

"After twelve years?" she sighed, and he thought that she looked
suddenly older and more tarnished.  The glow had wavered down in
her eyes, but they were still dark and unfathomable.

"Oh, it won't be twelve years this time!" he exclaimed in a mood
that was more tender than thunderous.  "It may be to-night."

"If you cared, you wouldn't go," she said breathlessly.  How
intense women were, even the lightest, the loosest!  Why were they
never satisfied to turn from one thing to another, as every man in
the world was able to do?

"But I can't stay.  Amy, you know I can't stay."

Her eyes were wet as she looked at him.  "Will you promise me to
come back to-night?"

"If I can, if I can possibly arrange it, I will come back to-
night."  Did she really care for him, he wondered, oppressed by the
responsibility, or was she obeying some general law of woman's
impulse to cling?  What illogical memories women possessed!  What
disastrous loyalties!  True, he craved the lost flavour of youth;
true, he longed, in safe places, for the perilous fires of romance.
But he knew now, beyond any doubt, that the only romance he needed
was the kind that did not give serious trouble.  Prudent rather
than possessive, he kissed her clinging lips, and turned quickly

As the door closed behind him, Mrs. Dalrymple gazed pensively into
her most becoming mirror, which hung over a vase of yellow roses on
a graceful Heppelwhite table.  While his steps still echoed from
the flagged walk to the gate, she sighed with weary resignation.
"I shall probably never see him again."  Then, more in pity than in
resentment, she added sorrowfully, "I don't believe he has a spark
of true manhood."


Outside, in the cool violet dusk, Mr. Littlepage waited patiently
while his brief flare of passion faded and died.  He was glad that
he had escaped; and yet had life, he questioned regretfully, ever
meant to him anything more affirmative than an escape from
experience?  Had he ever lived intensely except in those imaginary
shadows cast by actual adventures?  Well, he had been true to his
ideals; and though he had been true to his ideals, a profound
melancholy descended upon him.  Far overhead, above the living
gleam in the west, he saw pale flower-like clusters of stars, and
he thought disconsolately of spring, time, eternity, which flowed
there into emptiness.  Standing in Mrs. Dalrymple's garden, he was
visited again by an aching sense of the evanescence of happiness.
And not only of happiness, but of all animate and inanimate forms--
of the street, the houses, the trees, the inaccessible heavens, and
the secret recesses of his own changeable nature.  After all, were
the meshes of the actuality in which he was struggling more
permanent than the afterglow in the sky or this false spring of the
heart?  Suddenly, while he lingered there, imagination played its
old trick in his mind.  "Nothing is over," he thought hopefully.
"She is still here, and I may see her again.  I may see her to-

He walked slowly between the borders of boxwood, and passed out
upon the pavement just as Martin Welding turned the corner with his
rapid stride, which always left an impression of flight.  For an
instant, so strong was his dislike for his son-in-law, Mr.
Littlepage felt a temptation to retreat behind Mrs. Dalrymple's
gate.  Then courage overcame discretion, and he advanced with the
most careless manner he could bring to his aid.

"Well, Martin!--"  His greeting had begun briskly, but before the
bleak despair in the young man's face, he broke into the startled
question.  "Is anything wrong?"

Stopping so suddenly that he was obliged to catch hold of the gate,
Martin asked bitterly, "Is anything right?"

"You look as if you were suffering."

"Do I?  Well, I was wondering how long I could stand it."

"Are you in pain?"

"I am in hell, if that interests you."

"It doesn't interest, it distresses me."

In the waning light Martin's features wore a drawn and ravaged
look, as if he were devoured by an incurable malady.  His skin had
always seemed lacking in health to Mr. Littlepage (for all skins
that had remained long in France appeared to him unnatural); but
there was more here, he told himself now, than the result of
sleepless nights and an over-indulgence in absinthe and bad habits.
Even to Mr. Littlepage, who had little use for the twilight zone of
psychology, it was evident that Martin's ailment was some obscure
and mortal distress of the soul.  "He stayed too long in Europe,"
Virginius thought, and remembering Mary Victoria's triumphant
mission to the Balkans, he added hastily, "nobody ought to stay too
long in Europe unless he has the moral fibre to stand it."  From
the first it had been clear to him, and to the rest of Queenborough,
if not to Paris, that Martin was wanting in moral stamina.

"I am sorry."  The young man's burning eyes stared back at him from
a face that was swept bare of expression.  Why was he suffering
like this?  How could anyone suffer like this when there was no
visible cause?

"Why don't you tell me about it and let me help you?" the older man
asked with all the sympathy that he could summon.

The merest flicker of gratitude shone in the sullen misery of
Martin's look.  "The trouble is that I have come to the end of my
rope.  I am wondering how much longer I shall be able to stand it."

"Stand what, my boy?"

"Stand the whole thing.  Stand life, stand marriage, stand women."

Mr. Littlepage frowned.  "But this isn't normal," he said sternly.
"This isn't rational."

"Well, what am I to do?"

"You should see a physician."

"I've seen dozens of then since I met Mary Victoria."

"And what do they say?"

"That I'm not normal, I'm not rational."

"Then, it seems to me, you will have to believe it."

"I do believe it, but that doesn't make it easier.  I am still that
way no matter what I believe."

This was serious.  Moved in mind as well as heart, Mr. Littlepage
repeated to himself that this was indeed serious.  In the whole of
his career he had never, until he was thrown with Martin,
encountered the erratic vision outside of a court of law (except,
perhaps, in the case of poor Aunt Agatha), and he was attacked now
by the superstitious terror an unbalanced reason inspires in the
completely reasonable mind.

"I didn't know it was as grave as this," he said gently, and with
an effort to be reassuring.  "Well, we must find a cure.  We must
waste no time in finding a cure.  You are positive," he inquired
suspiciously, "that you realize the tremendous--yes, though I
dislike exaggeration, I feel that tremendous is not too big a word--
debt of gratitude you owe your wife?"

"Oh, I realize that.  Good God!  Do you think that I realize
anything else?"

"Have you asked yourself if you have done everything in your power
to make her happy?"

"I can't make her happy.  I told her that in the beginning.  Nobody
can make another person happy."

"Have you tried?"

"I've tried to do what she wished.  What is that accursed bank but
trying to do what she wished?"

"That, of course, is one of her ways of bringing you back to a
normal existence."

"But I don't want to be brought back.  I can't be brought back.  I
was never there."

"I fear that is true," Mr. Littlepage sighed, "but as least you
might make an effort to govern your faculties.  It looks to me," he
added presently, "as if you were in for a nervous collapse."

"Then it has always been that.  The trouble with me is that I ought
never to have been born, and everything I've ever done in my life
has only made that more evident.  But so long as I had to be born,"
he continued, with passionate resentment, "I might just as easily
have been born in some other part of the world.  Could anything but
a machine survive this mass production of mediocrity you call

"No doubt there is a grain of truth in what you say," Mr.
Littlepage admitted, not without sympathy.  "I sometimes tell
myself that in Queenborough there is no living to-day, there is
only progress."

"Oh, Queenborough isn't any worse than the rest of America.  What
you call the American spirit has left itself but one outlet, and it
has paved that with concrete."

"Well, even if that is true, you will feel better about it when you
have recovered your nervous equilibrium.  If only you will try to
help us, we may have you all right again in a few weeks.  But we
must spare your wife all anxiety."

"Her anxiety doesn't do any good.  It only makes matters worse."

"Are you sincere, then, in saying there is no other woman?"

"I've had enough of women.  Can't you understand," he demanded
bitterly of his father-in-law, "a man's wanting to get away from
every woman on earth?"

"Yes, I can understand," Mr. Littlepage assented reluctantly, and
he felt, indeed, that he could.  He had known hours, even days,
when he had longed to escape to some desolate polar region of the
mind, where woman, even as an ideal, could not hope to survive.
"The trouble with America," Marmaduke had said, "is that woman's
influence is too heavy."

"If you do," Martin was responding in a quieter tone, "you are the
only one who knows what I mean."

"But you were in a desperate situation, weren't you, when Mary
Victoria found you?"

"God knows I was!"

"If you felt that way, why did you marry?"

"I hoped Mary Victoria could change me.  Aren't men always hoping
they can change their spots?  And wouldn't you," he inquired, with
a sardonic laugh, "have believed that Mary Victoria could change

"I suppose I should, if I had been in love with her."  As he looked
sternly into Martin's despairing face, Mr. Littlepage felt that his
resentment was swept away by compassion.  This was his weakness, he
reminded himself, to understand and to pity the failures of life.
"I know how he has suffered," he thought.  "I might feel that way
myself if I had had to begin life in poverty and with an unhealthy
imagination."  Life!  There it was again, with its cruelties, its
frustrations, its beauty, its splendour, and its unconquerable
isolation.  There it was, and at its worse, we could, he meditated,
do nothing about it.  Beyond the young man's tormented youth, he
looked into the sombre dusk of spring in winter, and beyond this,
he looked still farther into the starry vastness of space.  "Most
men have felt like that at least once in their lives," he replied.

"Even if they have, that doesn't help me," Martin said, with a
strange rasping sound in his throat.  "I tell you I am suffocated
by the artificial life I am living."

"Can't you think of your wife?  Isn't she in even a worse plight?
For God's sake, be a man!"

"It's no use.  I am not that kind of man."

With his eyes on those wasted and unnatural features, Mr.
Littlepage softened his tone to one of gentle commiseration.
"Well, we can't settle anything here.  You will have to collect
yourself before we decide on a way."

"There is no use," Martin said grimly.  "I tell you I am

"Try to stop thinking about it to-night.  Come in with me to
dinner, and to-morrow we will consult Dr. Buchanan.  Don't get the
idea into your head that we are unsympathetic.  You are an ill man,
that's the way I look at it, and the most important thing is to
build up your health.  Why, I came near having a nervous breakdown
myself after the war, and but for Buchanan I might never have
recovered my grip.  What you are suffering from, my boy, is simply
lack of proper control.  You've got the fear of life in your mind,
and you must put up a stiff fight not to give in to it."

"I've seen Buchanan," Martin answered, "but he cannot do anything.
Nobody," he insisted stubbornly, looking past his father-in-law as
if he were staring into the face of a spectre, "can do anything.
You can't argue with me because I don't accept your premise.  I
don't accept a single one of your fundamental beliefs.  Perhaps I'm
rotten inside, or I may be as ill as you think.  Either way doesn't
make it any easier for Mary Victoria to manage me."

"I wonder," Mr. Littlepage asked, with discernment, "if the trouble
is not one of too much managing?  Some men cannot stand being made

"I don't know.  I don't even care.  But you're right about one
thing.  Some men ought never to marry."

"Those same men," Mr. Littlepage observed in a tone of rebuke,
"ought to keep clear of women."

"But they seldom do, and I didn't.  They are the very ones that
women, especially good women, wish to try their hands on."

"If you cannot be a man, at least don't be a rotter.  There's no
sense in this attitude.  There's not a particle of reason."

"No, there isn't any reason," Martin assented.  "I am not looking
for reason."

"Then give it up for the present, and come into the house.  I'll
brave you up with some old Baumgartner before dinner.  You haven't
been drinking, have you?"

"No, I'm not drunk.  The kind of stuff you get here doesn't do any

"Well, come in now and stop thinking until you've had your dinner."

"Did you ever," asked Martin abruptly, "feel that you stood on the
outside of everything and watched the world sliding by?"

"Yes, I've felt exactly that way.  It is nothing more than the
warning of tired nerves."  But was this true?  Mr. Littlepage
demanded of himself, with astonishment.  Were his moments of
ecstatic vision only the hallucinations of an unbalanced mind?"
There's no use standing here," he continued.  "It's getting late,
and Mary Victoria will be anxious.  Just try to convince yourself
that there is nothing unusual in your condition.  You can't find
anything so strange in this world that somebody else hasn't thought
or felt it before you."

"I wasn't coming in.  I was going for a walk," Martin muttered
irresolutely.  But there was no heart in his resistance, and he
yielded, almost without a struggle, to the firm grasp of his father-
in-law.  "It is foolish to lose patience with him," Mr. Littlepage
was thinking while he hurried the younger man across the street and
up the steps of the house.  "A man so far gone as this isn't

The door opened as he inserted his key; and with his first step
into the hall, he found that the scent of roses and the glimmer of
firelight from his library restored the lost pleasure of living.

"Wait for me in the library," he said cheerfully.  "I'll be down as
soon as I speak to Victoria."  While he turned away the thought
played in his mind, "Victoria will know what ought to be done.
Victoria will know how to deal with him."

He had reached the top of the stairs, and was about to enter his
wife's sitting-room, when the door opened, and against a stream of
rose-coloured light, he saw the pallid features of Mary Victoria.
"Oh, Father, I can't wake her!  I've tried and I can't wake her!"

Frightened as she was, he saw that she was still composed, still
capable, still mistress of herself and any emergency.  While he
rushed to the couch under the hanging lamp, he heard her imperative
voice at the telephone; he heard her summon the doctor; he heard
her ring for the servants; he heard her give the order to send for
Louisa.  In one instant, as if by the flash of a signal, she had
brought method and purpose into the crisis; she had banished, or at
least subordinated, the aimless impulses of the heart.  With
respect and not without repugnance, he watched her draw aside the
rose-coloured robe and apply to her mother's vacant form all the
restorative treatments she had learned in the war.  Only when she
had convinced herself that treatment was useless, did Mary Victoria
replace the robe, draw aside from the couch, and burst into tears.
"No one in the world," she cried in anguish, "could love her as I

"I know, my darling, I know," he answered, folding her in his arms
because he could not bear to meet the stricken look in her eyes.
Why was it, he wondered even now, that he could never reach, that
he could never touch, the real Mary Victoria?  Why was it that,
clasping her in his arms, resting her wet cheek against his, he was
still separated from her by that vast isolation of spirit?

Standing there, in the shower of rose-coloured light, Mr.
Littlepage gazed down on the tranquil form of his wife.  Already
the violet pallor of death, the unconquerable finality of the
grave, enveloped her in an impassive remoteness.  Her face, which
was turned slightly away from him, in the direction of the half-
open window, was as delicate as porcelain and so luminous in
expression that a faint phosphorescent gleam edged her profile.  In
the minutes--or was it hours?--since her death the look of virginal
wonder and surprise had returned to her features.  "I forgive
everything.  I understand everything," her lips, which had closed
in that magnanimous smile, might have murmured.  And this smile, so
bright, so distant, so noble, reminded him of nothing more human
than the smile of a spring meadow or the flashing curve of a river
in sunlight.  He had neglected her, he told himself; he had wearied
of her goodness; he had trifled, in the way of less fortunate
husbands, with love and lust.  Only an hour ago, while she lay
dying, or perhaps dead, he had been faithless in spirit; he had
been unworthy of her fidelity.  Only an hour ago!  Only an hour
ago, when she was lying there alone, with that comprehending yet
faintly ironic smile on her lips.


The next Sunday afternoon, two days after Victoria's funeral, Mr.
Littlepage returned from Rose Hill cemetery, where he had carried
fresh flowers, and sat down, alone with his grief, in his wife's
sitting-room.  For in his active life, assailed on every side by
the vocal optimism of industry, only on Sunday, after the morning
service was over, could he find an opportunity to indulge his
sorrow at leisure.  While he sat there, bowed over her desk, where
her letters had been arranged in neat piles by Louisa, he clung to
his grief with the desperation of a man who realizes, in the hour
of his sharpest distress, that lift is inexorably ordained for the
living, and that time, like an impalpable dust, is sifting in from
the world outside and obliterating the most passionately cherished
remembrance.  Bitterly, he reproached himself.  Bitterly, in his
heart, he reproached Mrs. Dalrymple.  Bitterly, with the very
accents of grief and despair, some derisive voice in his brain
whispered that reproach is even more fugitive than delight.  No
matter how deeply he suffered, no matter how unfalteringly he clung
to his dead, nature would restore itself in the end, and this
colourless dust of minutes, hours, days, would filter in from
eternity and settle in a thick deposit of time over his memory.
Though he longed with all his soul to suffer and remember, he knew
that both this longing and his aching heart were born of an
insatiable hunger for life.

Beyond the west window, which was half open, as it had been on the
afternoon of Victoria's death, the dark grey wings of pigeons were
flashing like curved blades against the changeable blue of the sky.
On one of these swift wings, the thought darted into his mind,
"There won't be another day as good for golf in many weeks."  Then,
resolutely averting his eyes from the sunshine, he intoned mutely,
as if he were summoning all his faculties in a ritual of
commemoration, "I was not worthy, but I loved her!  I was not
worthy, but I loved her!"

In the adjoining bedroom, he heard the footsteps of Louisa moving
to and fro, while she sorted and arranged for charitable purposes
the more intimate belongings of his wife; and these slow and steady
sounds throbbed in a monotonous undercurrent beneath the mournful
refrain of his words.  "I was not worthy, but I loved her!  I was
not worthy, but I loved her!"  Out of some shadowy region of memory
there emerged the face of Victoria as he had first loved her,
serene, passionless, poetic, confronting the world of illusion with
her air of innocence and surprise.  This was her look when he had
fallen in love with her, and this was her look, only more
magnanimous in its remoteness, when her lips had smiled at him in
the sleep from which she had never awakened.  Between these two
supreme moments of his life, what was left except an encroaching
futility?  It was as if all the weariness of age, all the
disappointments, all the thwarted desires, had been buried beneath
that slow accretion of years.  Yet he had loved her.  Even when he
had neglected her, even when he had been faithless in heart, he had
still loved her.  In his early manhood, he had believed that love
meant loyalty, that it meant benevolence, that it contained some
perennially living seed of kindness and self-sacrifice.  Now,
looking back, he realized that this was an error.  Either an error
of one of those artful impostures with which the elderly, who knew
better, encourage the dangerous illusions of youth.  For love, he
understood now, was not loyalty; it was not loving-kindness; it was
not even tenderness.  You might love a woman and yet deceive her;
you might love a woman and yet betray her; you might love a woman
and yet destroy her.  You might do anything in love, he saw at
last, with a pang of agony, but cease to remember.

"I never really understood her.  I never really appreciated her
goodness," he said in a whisper, as if by forming the words with
his lips he could leave a deeper impression.  "She must have
endured anguish this last year, while I never even suspected that
she was dying."  Day by day, night by night, they had been
together, and he had lacked the sympathy or the patience to
discover her secret.  How brave she had been to the last!  How
brave she had looked lying there, and how lonely!  He suffered
again, as he had suffered in that false spring dusk, face to face,
with the inscrutable mystery of Martin's despair.  Within four
walls, bound together by the indissoluble bonds of affection,
interest, and habit, he had never known, he had never even seen,
the real Victoria.

The footsteps in the adjoining room began again, like echoes in
some broken chords of his memory.  They drew nearer, as he
listened, paused for a discreet instant at the threshold, and
lingered there as if some reverent preparation was needed.  Then
the door opened slowly and softly, and Louisa entered with a
sympathetic murmur and crossed the floor to Victoria's desk.  Her
eyes were red and swollen, and her thin, firm hand, with its heavy
veins and polished nails, trembled with weakness.  "I found this
note in her desk, Virginius.  It was hidden away in a drawer."

He reached for the sheet of paper, while his questioning gaze, the
look of a child that is hurt, travelled from Louisa's helpful hand
to her quivering features.  By virtue of some natural aptitude for
a crisis, she had been able to enter into their grief and make
their desolation her own.

His gaze fluttered over the paper, and for an instant he hesitated.
"Do you think I had better read it, Louisa?"

"I should if I were you, Virginius.  She would wish you to see it."

Glancing down again, he saw that there were only a few lines,
written in a rapid and infirm hand, as if Victoria had been
overcome by emotion.

                                            December 7th, 192--

My dear Husband:

I have known for almost six months that I have a very short while
to live, and my one effort has been to spare you and the children,
to keep you from suspecting.  Nothing, I know, can spoil this last
perfect winter, or perhaps year, that we shall all have together.
But, before it is too late, there is something I wish to say to you--

_Before it is too late there is something I wish to say to you._
Nothing more!  The last sentence was slightly blurred, as if her
hand, he told himself, had failed her, and she had waited until her
strength should return.  No words that she might have written, no
act, however exalted, could have moved him so deeply.  Faced with
that discovery of her mortal illness, she had forgotten herself,
she had thought only of him and her children.  And it was in these
last months that he had wronged her in his heart, that he had
betrayed her devotion.

"I know she would wish you to see it," Louisa repeated.  "She
suffered a great deal, but her one thought was to spare those she
loved.  I have never seen anyone with more courage--or perhaps
fortitude is a better word--than Victoria showed--"

Stunned into silence, he looked upward, over Louisa's neat grey
head, as if he were worshipping at the shrine of some tutelary
divinity.  Crowned, radiant, incomparable, a new Victoria, one whom
he had never even imagined, had flowered there, out of the
throbbing light of his vision.  Nothing in his life, not young
love, not marriage, not fatherhood, not religious devotion--none of
these emotions had ever plunged so far beneath the shallows of
consciousness.  All the beauty of Helen adorned with the meekness
of Mary could not have transformed him so utterly as this
miraculous visitation of pity and terror.  For this Victoria in
heaven, who resembled the actual Victoria as little as a star
resembles a glowworm, had won at last his unalterable fidelity.

"You were more deserving than I, Louisa," he said in the furtive
and hesitating voice in which a man utters the unutterable.  "You
are the only one of us who was worthy of her."  For this sudden
apotheosis of Victoria had absorbed all the light and colour from
his field of vision, and had left the smaller human figures drained
of vital significance.  By that act of silent heroism, which had
cost her so little, Victoria had triumphed over every rival she had
had in the past and over every rival she might have had in the
future.  In the presence of the stainless legend, Mrs. Dalrymple's
allurement had wilted like the crumpled wings of a butterfly.  At
the funeral he had caught a glimpse of her charming head in the
distance, and a gust of repugnance, almost of physical aversion,
had swept through his nerves.  Yes, this was the kind of thing that
must stay by a man until the end of his life.

"You were a perfect husband, Virginius.  She told me only a few
weeks ago that the greatest satisfaction in her life was the
thought that she had been able to make you happy."

"But I wasn't worthy, Louisa!"  The cry rushed out in a torrent of

"You mustn't think that, Virginius."  Louisa laid her comforting
hand on his shoulder.  "You mustn't let that idea begin to brood in
your mind.  Victoria would never have wished you to nurse your
grief.  She didn't believe in selfish grief.  She has said to me so
often in the past, 'Louisa, I hope to leave only happy memories!'"

His eyes were looking inward, and there was a strange clear light
in them.  "Happy memories.  That was why--"

"Yes, that was why."

"She knew all the time, but she was perfectly cheerful."

"Oh, yes, she was perfectly cheerful.  Even as a child she had the
sunniest disposition."

"I could bear it better," he said suddenly, while the idea flitted
through Louisa's orderly mind that men never stop being children so
long as there is a woman to look after them, "I could bear it
better if only these last few months had been different."


"I mean if I'd thought more of her.  Do you know I have a terrible
feeling that I never really knew what she was, that I never really
saw her until she was dead."

"That is taking a morbid view of your grief, Virginius.  You
remember how Victoria disliked morbid views of death."

She had taken off her glasses to wipe them, and now, as she
returned them to her reddened nose, her features appeared to settle
into their usual composure.  Though her devotion to Victoria had
been deep and genuine, the precise equilibrium of her mind had not
been disturbed by her sorrow.  For her, death had softened rather
than magnified Victoria's virtues.  She beheld her now, not as she
had seen her a few days before, good, gentle, incapable of malice,
and hopeful by nature rather than intelligence, but finished,
harmless, undissembling as a dove, and blindly at the mercy of
life.  Yet this, she told herself, with accurate judgment, was an
error of sentiment.  Living or dead, Victoria would triumph.
Because she was one with the doves of life, at least in the mind of
Virginius, her memory would remain invulnerable to disaster.  Or
was this also a mistake?  Would she be preserved from oblivion,
not by merit alone, but by the benign embalming medium of
circumstances?  To Louisa's startled horror some small, malicious
demon of irony spoke suddenly from the primitive jungle of
consciousness, "Was it because she felt her way instead of seeing
it that she reached everlasting remembrance?  Or was it simply
because dullness, if it is sweet tempered, will outwear every form
of activity?"

Amazed, helpless; for even in a mind as neat and frugal as Louisa's
thoughts are not numbered, she said hurriedly, while the cold
glitter of her eyeglasses transfixed his grief:

"Try to do what she would have wished, Virginius.  We must both
forget ourselves and think of Mary Victoria."

He assented without animation.  "I suppose people are obliged to
forget.  That is the worst part of death.  No matter how much you
want to keep the past alive, the business of living is too much for
you.  You can't keep dust from settling over anything that is
motionless.  In remembering Mary Victoria we shall forget

"No, not forget."  She was firm about this, for such an idea was
not only fruitless but morbid.  "Don't you remember that when
little Edward died soon after he was born, Victoria would not let
herself give way and brood.  She told me that you said to her then
that life must always be for the living."

"Yes, I remember," he replied, vaguely consoled.  Few women, he
mused, a moment later, possessed Louisa's infallible touch on a
wounded heart.  In the last few days he had reminded himself so
often of Victoria's description of her as "a rock to lean on."  He
had even reproached himself for the flippancy with which he had
dismissed her in the past as a sterling character, but one of those
women, in spite of Marmaduke's long wooing, whom men did not marry.
Now, in the hour of affliction, he was beginning to realize that,
even in marriage, there is much to be said in favour of a rock-
ribbed foundation.

"I don't know what we should have done without you, Louisa," he
said gratefully.  "Especially Mary Victoria.  You are like a second
mother to the poor child."

A tear trickled down Louisa's nose under her glasses.  "Well, I've
always been that way, Virginius.  Victoria's children are as dear
to me as if they were my own.  There isn't anybody," she added,
"not even you, who will miss Victoria more than I shall."

"I know that," he assented, and felt suddenly very close to her.
"Well, you must help us all you can.  You must tell me when I am
wrong about Mary Victoria.  There are times when I feel that I
scarcely know her."

"You'll get over that," she said reasonably.  "She would have been
more like Victoria if there hadn't been any war."  Then she leaned
down and patted his shoulder.  "The best thing you can do now is to
go out and take a walk.  You're beginning to look sallow, and you
can't bring back Victoria by neglecting your health.  Go out and
get a breath of fresh air while I finish putting these things away.
Miss Agatha will help me, and by the time you come in, I'll have
everything straight."

Yes, everything would be straight, and the smallest sign that
Victoria had ever lived would be removed from his room.  Already
that pale dust was sifting in through the half-open window, through
the cracks of the doors, and covering the past with the immaterial
refuse of time.  After an inner struggle he rose to his feet.  "You
are right, Louisa.  I am not feeling exactly fit, and I need a

Still with that air of vague distress, he stood obediently before
her, while Louisa reflected tolerantly that you never know how
helpless men are until you see them at a funeral.  After all, there
were so many things to be done in the house of mourning without
trying to prolong grief.

"I know I can't bring back Victoria by brooding.  I may as well go
out for a walk.  Have you seen Mary Victoria since she came in from
the cemetery?"

"No, I think she must have stopped downstairs with Duncan.  I
always felt that he was the child Victoria loved best.  He is
heartbroken over his loss--"

She had scarcely finished her words, when the door was flung open,
and Mary Victoria ran like a hurt child straight into her father's
arms.  "Oh, Father, he has left me!" she cried in a strangled
voice.  "He has left me forever!"

"There, there, my darling, my little daughter!  What has happened?
How can I help you!"  Her head was on his breast, and he was
holding her fast against disloyalty, against heartbreak, against
all the cruelties and tragic conflicts of life.  And while he held
her there, he felt that his heart was turning slowly to earth.

"I found a note in my room.  He has gone.  He will never come back.
Oh, he will never come back."

"Did he say that?  Where is the note?"

"It is in my room.  What does that matter?  He said that he had
left me forever.  He said that he would never come back.  Oh,
Father, I cannot bear it if he leaves me!  I cannot bear it if he
never comes back!"

"The scoundrel!"  From a full heart the cry burst out, and he added
passionately to Louisa, "Such men ought to be drummed out of the

"I tried so hard," Mary Victoria was sobbing.  "I made every
sacrifice.  I gave up every other interest.  Oh, Father, I did

"You did, my darling.  You have been an angel.  You have been a
thousand times better than he deserved."

For the first time, Louisa interrupted, and her smooth metallic
tones cut directly through the stifling suspense in Mr.
Littlepage's mind.  "I have never thought that he was quite right
in his head," she said quietly.  "But maybe there is something we
don't understand.  Did he say where he was going, Mary Victoria?"

"No, he didn't tell me.  He didn't wish me to know," wailed the
girl, lifting her head from her father's breast.  "I've known for
weeks that he--he almost hated me--that he was thinking about some
other woman.  Ever since we came home he has been different.  He
would never have turned against me like this," she sobbed
despairingly, "if there were not some other woman."

Above the tumult of rage and pity in Mr. Littlepage's breast,
Martin's tormented face rose slowly before him, like the spectre of
a wasting moon over a whirlwind.  Confronted by that recollection,
his anger died down, and he said soothingly, "I am inclined to
agree with Louisa, my child, and to believe that he is distraught
in his mind.  When I talked to him a few hours before your mother
died, he seemed to be in a blind alley.  I advised him then to see
Buchanan in the morning, and but for--for what happened that night,
I think we might have made him listen to reason."

"I was wondering," Louisa remarked, with the composure that
somebody, she felt, was obliged to preserve in a crisis, "if he
could have meant more than he said.  Wasn't he once before, when he
was in Paris, on the brink of--?"

Her question was never asked, for Mary Victoria broke into a
sobbing so wild and unrestrained that Louisa was frightened into
compassionate dumbness.  Accustomed to the girl's arrogant
cheerfulness, she felt a pang of remorse, because she had believed,
especially since she had seen her in the presence of death, that
Mary Victoria was lacking in genuine emotion.  As she bent over her
now and watched the long, convulsive sobs shudder through her
relaxed body, she thought, with a flash of sympathetic understanding,
"It must be her condition.  Being that way seems to upset women

"I couldn't bear to think that.  Oh, Father, I couldn't bear to
think that," Mary Victoria moaned.  "Help me to find him, Father.
I shall die unless you help me to find him!"

"If only I knew where to look, my child.  Try to be calm.  Try to
tell me all that you know.  Why do you suspect that he has gone to
another woman?"

"I don't know, Father."  She stood up, wringing her hands in
anguish.  "I don't know, but I must find him!  Oh, won't you help
me to find him?"

"Try to be reasonable.  Try to think of us, to think of your

"I will, if only you will help me to find him.  I must find him
before it is too late.  I want him back.  I don't care what he does
or what happens, I want him back.  Oh, Father, won't you help me?"

"Then tell me just what he said.  Louisa, is there anything you can
give her?"

"Oh, no, I don't want anything.  All I want is to find Martin.  He
said he was going away, and that I must not expect him to come

"Was that all?  Every word?"

"That was all.  I thought he had gone to Milly Burden.  I never
dreamed that he would--But--Oh, I see it all now.  I see what he
meant.  Aren't you coming, Father?  Aren't you coming with me to
look for him?"

"I'll look, dear.  I'll do the best I can."  But, even while he was
speaking, the ugly thought had occurred to him, "Isn't death the
only solution?  Is there any finality, except in death, for a
situation like this?"  Horrified by that flitting shadow of evil,
he said with compunction, "If you will try to bear up, daughter,
I'll promise to do everything in my power."

"Then we must start," Mary Victoria said, with passionate haste.
"We mustn't lose a minute, if we hope to find him before it is too
late.  Oh, Aunt Louisa, won't you give me my hat?  I left it
somewhere in the hall."

"But you can't go, dear.  You are not well enough.  It might do you

"I can--I must."  Reviving suddenly, Mary Victoria was animated by
flaming resolve.  Light streamed back into her eyes; colour flowed
again beneath the leaden pallor of her skin.  "I can.  I must," she
repeated desperately.  "Oh, Father, can't you understand that I
shall die if I have to sit and wait?"

Mr. Littlepage looked helplessly at Louisa.  "Ought she to go with
me?  And where, anyway, are we going?"

Louisa, having found Mary Victoria's hat in the hall, was trying to
place it at the exact mournful angle on the girl's head.  "Wait a
minute, dear, I must smooth your hair."  Then, after repairing Mary
Victoria's injured appearance as well as she could, she turned to
confront Mr. Littlepage with her imperious sagacity.  "Of course
she oughtn't to go, Virginius, but what are you going to do about
it?  If she doesn't go with you, it will be the first time in her
life that she hasn't done what she wanted to do."  Then, with her
watchful glance on Mary Victoria, who was already hastening across
the room, she added in a warning whisper, "I suppose it is safer
not to cross her."

"Couldn't you reason with her?  She hasn't the slightest idea where
she is going."

"Oh, yes, she has, Virginius, she is going to save Martin.  As soon
as I made that unfortunate bent in the situation, it provided her
with her direction.  She is going to save Martin from his own
nature, which is exactly what she has been doing since she first
met him."

Irritated by her sepulchral whisper, he replied almost angrily,
"All the same, you might try to reason with her."

Louisa shook her head.  "You can't reason, Virginius, with
salvation.  All you can do is to follow her in the hope that she
will never lose anything else that she wishes to keep."

He glanced at her in despair, but before he could summon an
indignant protest to his lips, Mary Victoria cried urgently from
the hall, "Oh, Father, won't you please hurry!  This isn't any time
to stop and discuss things."

While he obeyed her, he asked sharply, "Have you any idea, Mary
Victoria, where you are going?"

"I am going to Milly Burden," she replied in a tone of impatient
anguish.  "I am going to ask her if she knows where he is."

Again he turned to Louisa.  "Can't you stop her?" he pleaded, with
bitterness.  "Women must not do things like that."

"If you were ever to stop her, Virginius," Louisa answered sternly,
"you ought to have started trying twenty-six years ago.  But I
shouldn't let a theory of behaviour bother me," she added
consolingly.  "Behaviour isn't nearly so important as it used to

He flushed darkly.  "Mary Victoria," he said sternly from the
threshold, "I refuse to allow my daughter to go to another woman
and ask for her husband."

Turning in her steps, for she had reached the head of the
staircase, Mary Victoria gazed back at him with incredulous eyes.
"I am obliged to find Martin, Father," she answered, with tragic
forbearance.  "Nothing else on earth matters to me if only I am in
time to save Martin."

"Have you so little pride that you will go to another woman to look
for him?"

"You can't understand, Father," Mary Victoria reasoned, with
patience.  "Pride has nothing to do with it.  I must go to him
wherever he is.  I must try to save him no matter what he has done.
If you would rather not go with me," she added in a throbbing
voice, "I will go by myself."

"God help us!" Mr. Littlepage exclaimed more in anger than in
supplication; and then, with one last moving appeal to Louisa, he
asked, "Will you tell me what I am to do?"

"I think," Louisa replied as gently as she could, "that the best
thing would be to order the car."

Mary Victoria, who had started down the stairs, turned to call over
her shoulder, "The car is waiting, Father.  We can leave it as soon
as we reach Juniper Hill."

"You may as well start," Louisa remarked, as he flung a helpless
glance in her direction.  "And I shouldn't worry a bit if I were
you about her going to see Milly Burden," she added, following him
to the staircase.  "Nobody minds a thing like that any longer."

To this she received, as she had expected, no audible reply; but it
seemed to her that Mr. Littlepage's shoulders were very straight as
he descended the stairs, and his pace had not slackened a few
minutes later, when, turning to a front window, she watched him
cross the pavement and step into the car.  "He hasn't been the same
man since Victoria's death," she meditated sadly.  "Some men seem
never to fall in love with their wives until they have lost them
and can fit them into a halo.  By the time he is through with
Victoria," she added presently, with her unfailing shrewdness,
"nobody will be able to recognize a single feature.  Well, I
suppose it makes him happier, and whether it does or not, there
isn't anything to be done about it."

As the car vanished in a haze of sunshine, her thoughts passed,
with astonishment, from Mr. Littlepage to Mary Victoria.  Yes,
Virginius was right.  This was the kind of thing that no woman, at
least no woman who was a Southern lady, could have done in the last
century.  Never, not even if he had been her lawful husband, not
even to save him from his own nature, could Louisa have run after a
man.  Even murder in a just cause, as long as it did not involve a
sacrifice of proper pride, would have been easier for her.  The
women of her age had waited silently for what they wanted, spinning
their intricate webs with the eternal patience of nature; and when
what they wanted did not come because he was caught elsewhere, they
continued to wait and spin as long as the gossamer threads held
together.  "I wonder which way is best?" Louisa speculated, for
hers was an inquiring mind.  "Is it better to cling to modesty
until you lose everything else, or to waste it like scattered rose-
leaves in the long pursuit of delight?  But what is love, after
all?" she asked suddenly, "and who has ever found it by seeking?"
On the pavement the faint sunshine glittered and vanished and
reassembled in a pattern of silver.  An old torment, the torment of
hope and of long waiting, shuddered back from her heart into her
nerves.  "I could never go through it now," she thought, with a
start of wonder because she had ever survived it.  "No woman of to-
day could go through it and live."  Yes, she could not agree with
Virginius that the world had changed for the worse.  Being a woman,
she knew better.  Being a woman, she knew what she could never
bring herself to tell him, that the modesty of the past was a
false, not a true, deity, and delighted in sacrifice.  No, it
wasn't worth it, she said in a strained whisper, as if someone were
listening; it wasn't worth it, at least to women.  Nothing was
worth all the deceit, all the anguish, all the futile hope and
ineffectual endeavour, all the pretence and parade, all the
artificial glamour and empty posturing, of the great Victorian
tradition.  For an instant, so relentless was the clutch of the
past, her heart struggled like a wild thing in the beak of an
eagle.  Yes, she knew, and Virginius did not.  She knew what it had
meant to women.  She had lived through the ages of waiting, and she
knew every throb, every ache, every pang, every quiver.  She had
lived through it all.  For her heart had cracked and broken as
quietly as the hearts of all perfect Southern ladies broke beneath
the enamelled surface of beautiful behaviour.  And now, cool,
composed, indulgent, self-contained, and easily amused, she watched
with sympathy the liberal manners of the new century.


Moving in what seemed to him an unnatural dream, Mr. Littlepage
left the car at the corner of Juniper Hill, and followed Mary
Victoria over the cobblestones to the opposite pavement.  Though he
had reached the age when, according to all the schools, man seeks
comfort rather than adventure, he had been shocked into self-
reproach by the suddenness of Victoria's death, and he was
lingering now in that inhospitable region between despair and
resignation.  Obstinately, in spite of Louisa's sensible advice, he
clung to his grief and remorse.  Obstinately, in spite of Mary
Victoria's distress, he reminded himself that the loss of Martin,
even if he were lost forever, was a trifle compared to the loss of
Victoria.  Yet he had observed, not without resentment, that Mary
Victoria, who had borne her mother's death in deep affliction, but
with quiet fortitude, had shuddered into a tragic victim when this
man, who was in every way ignoble, had tried to abandon her.  "You
can't reason about love," he thought indignantly.  "It is love, or
what they call love, that makes most of the trouble in life."

Looking round as she walked, Mary Victoria sobbed under her breath,
"Oh, Father, promise me you will find him!"

"Don't worry, my child, we will find him," Mr. Littlepage replied
consolingly, and he added angrily to himself, "He isn't worth

A sigh floated back to him as Mary Victoria quickened her pace.
"But, Father, I want him!"  And this sigh, so mournful, so ardent,
was inexpressibly moving.  While she had lain sobbing in his arms,
Mr. Littlepage had felt that his heart was flooded with tenderness.
Now, however, following her in her eager pursuit, he was conscious
that his inner mood had chilled into compassion.  If only women had
been satisfied to remain protected, how much pleasanter the world,
even this changing modern world, might be to-day!  If only they had
been satisfied to wait in patience, not to seek after happiness!
For it seemed to him, while his mood, if not his heart, froze into
resentment, that there could be nothing nobler in women than the
beauty of long waiting and wifely forbearance.  He was old-
fashioned, no doubt, notwithstanding his advanced views in other
fields than those of woman's sphere; but surely it was not too much
to insist that the true feminine character had never flowered more
perfectly than in the sheltered garden of Southern tradition.
Never had woman appeared more desirable, never had she exerted a
finer influence upon manners and customs, than in those legendary
periods when she had disposed her limbs in the classic posture of

"Mary Victoria is going the wrong way about things," he mused
bitterly.  "If only she could believe it, she would stand a much
better chance of getting what she wants if she would be content to
go back home and sit down."

At this point, his meditations were faintly ruffled by the
intrusion of poor Aunt Agatha and her attendant train of shadowy
figures, who had all, to judge from their subdued appearance,
waited somewhere with infinite patience.  Well, of course, every
rule, however sound in principle, has its exceptions.  Poor Aunt
Agatha was not only an exception, but, surveyed through this
disfiguring modern atmosphere, almost a catastrophe.  To be sure,
she must have won whatever life had assigned to her by staying at
home; for even her fall, which happened so long ago that it had
receded to some dim island of allegory, had occurred, he reminded
himself, before the Southern lady had plucked even the most
immature apple from the forbidden tree.  In his early youth, when
nymphomania was less literary than it is to-day, he had heard
elderly ladies, who were always interested and usually well
informed, whisper vague warnings against poor Aunt Agatha's moral
contagion.  But, even then, he insisted to his harassed mind, while
he joined Mary Victoria's bold pursuit of the fleeing male, Aunt
Agatha had been sheltered, she had been protected.  It would
become, he moralized, a deranged world indeed, if women should
begin to track down men in their wild happiness-hunting.  Mary
Victoria, he knew, for all her reckless chase, was pursuing Martin
less for pleasure than from benevolence.  She was animated as
always by a lofty purpose, not by a discredited instinct.  Before
him, in the triumphant flesh, he realized, was a living example of
the steadfast dignity a sense of duty confers.  If women were ever
to grasp this simple truth, what an endless opportunity for
destruction awaited them.  Toying whimsically with the idea, for
there is safety in the whimsical that does not slip into a tragic
abyss, he thought with idle malice, "They may ruin as many lives as
they please, if only they will consent to ruin them from the
highest motives. . . ."  His mind, overshadowed by grief for
Victoria, retreated suddenly into itself as into a darkened
chamber.  Life again, the invincible Adversary!  He was alone with
it there in that inner obscurity.  Without light, without longing,
without joy, without hope, he was alone with it forever.  Even love
could not save; for what did he, what did anyone, know about love?
Far away, as faint and thin as the music of distant chimes, he
heard the voice of Mrs. Dalrymple grieving because love is not

"I must not let myself grow morbid," he thought.  "I must not begin
to take a dark view of life.  Louisa is right.  That is a poor way
of showing respect for Victoria's memory."  Lifting his eyes from
the pavement, he gazed up at the silvery blue of the sky, where
small white clouds were sailing in fleets.  On the still, soft air
the sunshine quivered and paled; the winter branches looked as
insubstantial as mist; and over the sky and the sunshine and the
glimmering boughs there hovered the impalpable film of a dream.
"It is not real," he told himself, with a start.  He didn't know
why, he didn't know how; but it was not reality at which he was
looking.  It was not reality in which he struggled and suffered
like a bird in a net.  "Perhaps I am too complex," he thought.  Or
was he too simple-minded?  Some day, when he was old and his active
life was over, he might begin to explore the secret labyrinths of
his own nature.  He might even try to discover why he had seemed to
live like a pointed flame in those instants of release--or was it
communion?  But not now--not yet, not so long as the imperative
needs of time and space still enslaved his desires.  Well, no
matter.  All he knew at the moment was that he had been born out of
his proper time, that he did not fit into his age.  He did not
belong with poor Aunt Agatha, who was too tender; he did not belong
with Mrs. Dalrymple, who was too brittle; he did not belong with
Curle, who was too vulgar.  Yet, in the end, he speculated idly,
Curle and his kind might be the only ones to survive.  In the end,
they might wear out all the softer and finer strains of human
material.  Was that the victory toward which our civilization was
moving so proudly?  Well, no matter. . . .  This dull resentment
against noise, against size, against ugliness, might be nothing
nobler than the approaching rigidity of age, the slow hardening of
arteries that had once been as elastic as youth.  It was his fault,
perhaps, that everything except his sorrow seemed trivial and
meaningless.  Modern life especially appeared without dignity and
even without direction, an endless speeding to nowhere.  Man, he
told himself, may have flown to the stars, and broken light and air
to his harness; but he was no nearer happiness than he had been in
the past.  He was no nearer the everlasting answer to why?  Whence?
Whither! . . .  Even Curle, who never left off speeding and, as
Marmaduke once said of him, "could see the cheerful side of a
corpse," was not happy.  No, Curle was not happy, his father
repeated cynically after a moment; he was merely full of noise and
rushing wind and the urgent impulse to live faster than anyone
else.  With intense irritation, Mr. Littlepage recalled that Curle,
who had sincerely loved his mother, had translated his grief into
renewed speed and increased production.  Straight from the
cemetery, he had rushed on in search of a monument; and not until
he had procured the costliest memorial that could be crowded into
the populous family plot, had he been satisfied to turn back to his
parades and his old cornfields.  Well, no matter. . . .

"Is this the house, Father?" asked Mary Victoria, as she stopped
before the sagging gate, under the dappled boughs of an old
sycamore which had escaped the political axe.

Beneath the tree, an Italian organ grinder was encouraging a
wistful monkey in a romantic burlesque; and while he doffed his
little cap and assumed the immemorial posture of chivalry, the eyes
of the wistful monkey asked, "Why?  Whence?  Whither?"

While he felt in the pocket of his waistcoat, and held out a coin,
Mr. Littlepage spoke a friendly word to the organ grinder, who was
playing a sad, gay melody.

"Did you bring him far?" he inquired, not merely to be kind, but
because he was interested for the first time since he had entered
the shadowy desert of sorrow.

"We came a long way, a long, long way, sir."  The words attuned
themselves to the air, or was it, as Curle was fond of saying, to
the infinite?

"Do you treat him well?  Why does he look so sad?"

"Oh, I treat him well, sir; but he is an artist.  It is a hard
world for artists, sir, whether they be men or monkeys."

A hard world for artists!  "Yes, we should keep to facts, especially
if we are monkeys.  The world belongs to facts.  Here is one for
you."  Taking out his pocket-book, he selected a generous note, and
unfolded it slowly.  As he gave it into the withered little claws,
the monkey doffed his cap again and replied with a flourishing
gesture.  "He needs a new cap," Mr. Littlepage said.

"Yes, sir, he has a new cap, but he likes the old one better and
won't give it up."

"Aren't you coming, Father?" Mary Victoria called impatiently from
the porch.

"Yes, I'm coming, dear."  As he opened the gate and went up the
walk of sunken flagstones, he glanced back over his shoulder, and
saw the wistful eyes of the monkey still following him.  Why?
Whence?  Whither?

"The idea of stopping, in the midst of our anxiety, to play with a
monkey," Mary Victoria remarked in the tone of a woman who is
exasperated, but still mistress of herself and her surroundings.

"I wasn't playing, daughter.  That monkey has something I have
always needed and never been able to find."

"I shouldn't choose this time to joke, Father."  As she lost her
temper, she held the more firmly to her patience.

"My dear, I've never felt less like joking in my life, nor, I feel
sure, did that monkey.  Don't you think I'd better go in alone?"

"I must speak to her.  But I've already rung twice, and nobody has

"Perhaps they are all out.  Or Mrs. Burden may be putting on her
Sunday dress.  If they keep a maid for the lodgers, she is probably
out walking with her young man."

Mary Victoria's only response was to ring for the third time more
emphatically.  Then, after a long pause, she said with annoyance,
"You speak as if you hope they are out."

"I am not sure that I don't.  Have you tried the door?  In this
part of town doors are not often locked."  Pushing her gently
aside, he turned the handle, and the door opened on the fine old
staircase in the darkened hall.

"They may think it strange if we go in," Mary Victoria remarked,
peering cautiously into the wan green light of the house.

"Nothing is strange in this neighbourhood.  Marmaduke will know
where they are.  I'll run up and ask him.  Are you able to come?"

"I've never been up to his studio.  How far is it?"

"Two flights, long and steep."

She shook her head.  "I am not equal to a climb like that.  You go
up, and I'll sit on the porch and wait."

"You look pale, daughter.  Are you sure you don't mind being left?"

"Oh, I don't mind being left.  I don't mind," she said, with a
strangled sob, "anything in the world."  Then composing herself
with a gesture, she added, "But look inside first and see if
anybody is there."

Obediently, he glanced into the rooms until he came to the kitchen,
where he found a smouldering fire in the stove.  Returning, he said
in a tone of relief, "Mrs. Burden is probably visiting one of the
neighbours, or she may be upstairs in Marmaduke's studio.  It isn't
likely that she would leave her house empty for more than a few

"Uncle Marmaduke may have left the door open."

"Well, he may have, but I doubt it.  However, I'll go up and ask.
Would you like a glass of water?"

"No, I don't want a glass of water.  I don't want anything."

Her eyes filled with tears, and she turned away from him to the
melancholy garden, where the leaves of autumn were still lying in
wind-drifts.  With a pang in his heart, he told himself that she
was thinking of all the emptiness of the future, of all the
emptiness of other winters without a noble and engrossing purpose
in life.

"Shall I go up now?"  Hesitating and irresolute, he felt that in
ascending that staircase and taking Marmaduke into his confidence,
he was beginning a search that must end in disaster.

"Oh, go, go.  Why don't you go?"

"I don't like to leave you, my dear.  Somebody might come."

"What does it matter?  What do I care?"  Her nerves quivered in her
voice; and turning away, he went as quickly as he could into the
house and up the dark flight of stairs.


When he reached the second floor, he could see the afternoon
sunshine streaming down from Marmaduke's studio; and mounting
rapidly, he found his brother still encircled by his depraved riot
of colour.

"I was going up to your house a little later, Virginius," Marmaduke
said, as he balanced himself on his wooden leg and held out his
hand.  "Few persons admired Victoria more than I did.  There was
more in her, I believe, than she ever suspected.  Her convictions
stood in her way, but convictions always stand in your way, if they
are strong enough."

"Everybody misses her," Virginius replied coldly, because he could
not bear to hear Marmaduke talk of Victoria.  "But I came to speak
about Mary Victoria.  Her husband has left her."

"Well, what did you expect?"

"I don't know what I expected, but not this.  Mary Victoria is

"She doesn't know when she is well off.  What excuse did he give?"

"None.  That's the worst of it.  At first she thought there was
another woman.  Now, she fears he may destroy himself."

"By another woman, do you mean Milly?"

"She means Milly.  I don't mean anybody."

"What do you fear?"

"Well, I talked to him the evening I--we lost Victoria, and I think
the chances are that he has made away with himself."

"Poor devil!" Marmaduke said, with a sigh.  "I suppose he's a cad
and a rotter; but all the same I have a lurking sympathy for him in
my heart.  When you turn a man with a face like that loose in a
woman's world, you might more mercifully hang him."

"Haven't we always known that a man's face doesn't matter?" Mr.
Littlepage inquired, with asperity.

"No doubt.  We've always known a good many things that are not
true.  I tell you a chap like that, looking as if he had stepped
out of a sad legend, hasn't any better chance than a--than a
rabbit.  Nor than a hare with the hounds after him."

This was, in Mr. Littlepage's opinion, an ignoble view of life;
but, within the last few days, ignoble views of life had not seemed
to him worth resenting.  So he said merely, "He has one of the best
wives in the world."

"I can well believe it.  The best wife sometimes smothers a man."

"I remember he used that very word when he talked to me.  He even
asked if I couldn't understand a man having had too much of women?"

"You couldn't, I suppose?"

"On the contrary, I told him I could.  Any man, no matter how
happily he has been married, can understand that much of life.  But
it didn't sound as if he were pursuing Milly again."

"No, it doesn't sound that way, but a man's protestation does not
always accord with his practice.  He has been seeing Milly, I know.
I met him coming out of the house last night."

"Oh, you did!" Mr. Littlepage exclaimed blankly.  "Well, I dare say
it was too much to expect him to be decent; but I did hope Milly
had come to her senses again.  It looks," he prophesied gloomily,
"as if the whole world were going to ruin."

"We've been going that way for several million years, my dear
brother, and we haven't apparently got any nearer our destination."

Mr. Littlepage frowned.  His nerves, which had been on edge ever
since Victoria's death, slipped suddenly beyond the control of his
will.  "I believe it's love that has gone rotten," he said, while
his lower lip protruded angrily and the purple flush Victoria had
dreaded mantled his face.

Marmaduke assented.  "It wouldn't do any harm to try pity in its
place for a while.  Pity is a finer sentiment than love, and it
might build a better world in the end than love ever imagined."

But this frail philosophy only exasperated Virginius.  "I am too
old to begin experimenting with either sentiment or philanthropy.
What I want to do is to save Mary Victoria and Milly, if it is not
too late."

Marmaduke's gaze roamed through the window, and beyond the old
sycamore, to the thin sunlight that was dissolving over the river.
"I believe Milly is saved already," he answered.  "If to be saved
means to become something more than the helpless victim of life.
As for Mary Victoria, I am not sure that she can ever be saved
until she has first been destroyed."

A quiver ran through Mr. Littlepage's mottled features.  "If you
have the heart to stand by and watch my daughter ruin her life over
an unworthy object, I haven't," he said bitterly.

"I confess I'd rather not watch it, Virginius.  I am not
sufficiently pious to enjoy seeing people suffer.  I don't even
enjoy seeing them go to prison, and I am sure I could never have
borne the sight of a burning.  My heart, or at least my nerves, are
so unredeemed that I am not able even to justify the ways of God to
Martin.  It seems to me a poor sort of Providence that tracks down
a wild creature with an automobile and slaughters it with a machine

"Do you think of Martin as a wild creature?  He seems to me nothing
more dangerous than a flabby failure."

"He is a failure, I admit; but I still maintain that Providence
should be a sport even when tracking down failures.  That will, no
doubt, impress you as impious.  Perhaps it is.  But I cannot get
over the feeling that the poor fool never had a chance to be
anything but some woman's purpose in life."

"Naturally," Virginius agreed more quietly, "you can't help feeling
sorry for him.  But we must remember that he owed everything,
including his life, to Mary Victoria."

"That was where the trouble began.  He owed her too much."

"She still loves him devotedly."

"You can't blame him for that.  He did his best to destroy her
illusion.  The truth is that she could have done twice as much with
him if she had loved him less and liked him more.  Ever since he
was born, Martin has had too much love and too little liking."

Mr. Littlepage sighed.  After all, Marmaduke was speaking from the
shallows, not from the depths, of experience.  "Sometimes a man may
have both," he rejoined uneasily; for he would have died sooner
than ask Marmaduke how much he knew, or imagined that he knew about
love.  "Have you never seen them united?"

"Not often.  I can recall only one woman who has been able to give
both in equal measure, and that is Louisa."

Mr. Littlepage started, and his unnatural colour faded slowly.
"But was Louisa really in love with you?"

So mocking was the flash in Marmaduke's glance that it enlightened
his brother even more quickly than the derisive note in his voice.
"Are you as blind, Virginius, as you pretend to be?"

"Blind?"  The word cut like a blade.  "Do you mean to imply--?"

"I imply nothing.  Are you too wise or too dull to understand why
Louisa has remained single?"

"I am certainly too dull, if you mean--"

"Have you looked at her almost every day for thirty-odd years and
yet never seen what was as plain as--as--well, as the nose on her

"She has absolutely, if that is what you mean to suggest,"
Virginius faltered, "given me no reason to think that she was--that
she was--"

Marmaduke chuckled.  "Good God, man, do you imagine I could have
stayed in love with Louisa for thirty years if she had not been in
love with somebody else?  But she wouldn't have given you any
reason.  Trust her for that.  Louisa plays the game, even if she is
a Victorian virgin."

"She was always devoted to Victoria," Mr. Littlepage answered
resentfully.  "She was Victoria's best friend."

"She probably loved Victoria better than she loved anyone in the
world.  Louisa is the kind of woman with whom friendship runs
deeper than love.  There were women like that born even in the same
year with Amy Dalrymple--or with Aunt Agatha."

Mr. Littlepage was still justly incensed.  "If you had not lived
abroad so long, Marmaduke, I should feel obliged to resent your
insinuations.  It is little less than an insult, not only to
Louisa, but to Victoria."

"Louisa would not admit that.  Even though she is a virgin and
unviolated, she has learned something since Babylon."

"I have the highest regard for Louisa," Mr. Littlepage remarked
stiffly, "the very highest regard and admiration."

"Well, so have I," Marmaduke sighed softly.  "You must remember
that I have loved her almost as long and as hopelessly as she has
loved you."

In the deep despondency of Mr. Littlepage's mind there was a sudden
discreet flutter, as if a flock of startled birds were settling to
roost.  "I refuse to admit that, Marmaduke.  Such a suggestion is
an affront to Louisa's sterling character."

"My dear Virginius, there are circumstances in which a sterling
character is not only admirable but essential, and a long and
hopeless passion is one of them.  Without a sterling character, it
is impossible to be hopeless and still love on."

Out of the flutter and confusion in Mr. Littlepage's mind, there
emerged first a puzzled wonder and then the diffused light of
complete understanding.  Surely to have inspired a passion, however
confined by virtue, in a sterling character, such as he knew Louisa
to be, was a higher tribute than the awakening of wanton fancies in
ladies of looser habits and softer natures.

"I must go down," he said abruptly.  "Mary Victoria is waiting for
me."  There was a new note in his voice, and before hastening to
the stairs, he paused an instant and looked with compassionate eyes
at his brother.  Incredible as it appeared, he had never realized
before that Marmaduke was an old man.  The years had not mellowed
him; they had merely driven and twisted him into this mood of
sardonic defiance.  Standing there, in the last flare of day, he
looked, not only tough and seasoned and crippled, but invulnerable
alike to time and chance and desire.

"Well, good-bye, old chap," Virginius said softly, as he began his
long descent of the stairs.

When he passed the second turn a view of the open front door and
the outside world floated before him, and he saw that clouds were
gathering in the west, while a round red sun, spotted like a tiger-
lily, was drooping slowly into the river.  As he approached the
door, the sound of muffled voices reached him, and one of these
voices he recognized, with a start of dismay, as Milly Burden's.

"Yes, I am going away."  There was a running cadence of ecstasy in
the words.  "I am going away into the world!"

"I thought you might help me to find him," Mary Victoria answered,
as her father stepped out on the porch.  Glancing indifferently
round when he laid his arm on her shoulder, she added in a composed
but suffering tone, "He is so ill that he hardly knows what he is
doing.  I thought he might have come to you."

"He did come," Milly said, with a strangely absent air, as if she
were listening to some faint music.  "He did come, but he didn't
stay.  He had to go on.  Something was driving him."

"He didn't ask you, then, to--to--"

As Mary Victoria's voice wavered under her anguish, Milly caught up
the broken sentence, and finished it with an air of defiant
candour.  "To go with him?  No, he didn't ask me.  He thought he
wanted me," she added, in what seemed to Mr. Littlepage, in his
anxiety, a less brazen tone, "but he didn't--not really.  What he
really wanted was loneliness."

"Loneliness?" exclaimed Mary Victoria, and the echo was a sigh of

"Do you know where he went?" Mr. Littlepage demanded; and it
appeared to him, as he asked the question, that every circumstance,
even Milly's unhappy passion, had changed since he entered the
house and went upstairs to Marmaduke's studio.  Even the air had
grown colder; a wind, with a sharpened edge, was springing up from
the river; and the heavy clouds were drifting down over the red and
black sunset.

"He didn't tell me," Milly answered slowly, "but he is going as far
away as he can.  As long as his money holds out, he said, he would
go on.  Maybe he will have to stop in France, but he was hoping
that he might get as far as the Himalayas.  He wants to find a
place where there are high mountains and snows that never melt and
nothing else except loneliness."

A long shudder quivered through Mary Victoria's body, and over her
lowered head, Mr. Littlepage said sternly:  "Well, it is a good
riddance--so long as he is going alone."

"Oh, he is going alone," Milly replied, with that quiver of joy--or
was it cruelty?--in her voice.  While he looked at her in anger, he
told himself that he had never seen her so overflowing with life.
The blue of her eyes was deeper and richer, and the April radiance
shone in her smile and in the vivid bloom of her lips.  "She looks
as if she were in love again," he thought moodily, "but, in God's
name, who is it this time?"

At her words, Mary Victoria had drawn away from her father's arms,
and she stood now, noble and proud and very lonely, against the
boughs of the old sycamore and the dark sunset.  Broken but
undefeated, she put out her arm with a magnanimous gesture; and
looking into her face, Mr. Littlepage felt that the lost adoration
and romance were ebbing back into his heart.  Once again, his
memory dissolved into a glowing mist and flowered anew in the image
of a little girl with auburn curls on her shoulders and bare,
sunburned knees above her white socks and black slippers.  "I want
him to be happy," she was saying, in a tone of exalted emotion.
"If you can make him happier than I can, I am ready--I am willing--"

For an instant, Milly stared at her with a flame of surprise in her
face.  Then she answered quickly, almost fiercely, with a hard
little laugh (the laugh, Mr. Littlepage told himself, of youth that
is lost in its own selfish concerns), "But I don't want him.  I
thought I wanted him until I saw him again, and then I knew that I
didn't.  He doesn't want me, he wants loneliness.  And I--oh, what
I want is something worth loving!"  Catching her breath, in that
defiant laugh, she cried the words over again, as if the very sound
of them filled her with joy.  "What I want is something worth

"Well, I hope you'll find it, my dear," Mr. Littlepage said coldly;
for not only did he marvel at the curious appetite of youth for
disaster, but he disapproved of her unbridled desires almost as
much as he deplored her lack of feeling for Mary Victoria.  "But I
doubt if you will, and even if you find it, you probably won't know
it.  As for Martin," he concluded in a tone of deep disgust, "we
cannot lose him so easily.  If we wait, he will come back."

"When he finds loneliness," Milly replied indifferently, "he may
find also that it is not what he wanted.  He may even find," she
added, with the shrewdness of instinct, "that it isn't any more
satisfying than love."

Holding Mary Victoria in his arms, Mr. Littlepage felt that all her
gallant spirit, which had conquered Martin as well as the Balkan
kingdoms, was oozing slowly away.  Her erect figure appeared to
shrink and falter beneath a burden that was too intolerable to be
borne.  Even her voice, when she spoke, sounded as if it were
crushed by despair--or was it repugnance?

"It makes no difference now," she said, sinking back from her
supreme gesture of sacrifice; for what sacrifice, however noble,
can be confirmed when it is wasted?  "No matter what happens, it
could never be the same thing again."  A gust of pain, or perhaps
of anger, darkened her eyes, and Mr. Littlepage wondered hopefully
if she were at last seeing Martin, not in the glow of her illusion,
but by the chill dawn of Milly's awakening?  "Are you coming,
father?" she asked, as she descended the steps to the walk.

"In a minute, dear," he replied, and turned back to Milly.  "So it
is all arranged, and you are happy?"  Looking round nervously, he
saw that Mary Victoria was standing in the desolate garden, with
the withered leaves blowing about her feet.

"Yes, it is all arranged.  Miss Goddard will look after mother.
She said Mrs. Littlepage asked her to do so."

"I know."  That was like Victoria.  She never forgot anything,
least of all a chance to do a kindness.  "But the chief thing is
that you are happy."

"Yes, I am happy.  Nobody who hasn't been as miserable as I was
last year could possibly be so happy as this."

"Just because you are going away?"

"Just because I am free.  Just because I am free to begin
everything over again."

Everything over again!  Oh, that insatiable appetite of youth for
disaster!  "Well, you know now what life is."

She laughed with the old gay derision at circumstances.  "But the
whole world is mine, and in the whole world there must be something
worth loving."

His face hardened.  "Then you have not yet had enough?  You are
still looking for love?"

She shook her head, and he felt that all the tragic splendour of
youth was in her face.  "Not love," she answered, and her voice, so
rich, so vibrating, was like the sound of wings in the air.  "No,
not love alone, but something worth loving!"

He smiled sadly.  "Well, I hope you will find it, my dear, and when
you do find it, that it will be better than loneliness.  If it
isn't, you know where a friend will be waiting as long as he lives.
But I shall see you tomorrow?"

"Oh, yes, you shall see me to-morrow.  I am not going until the end
of the week."

With a last pressure, he dropped her hands and hurried down into
the garden.  The wind was driving the leaves in flocks after Mary
Victoria, and it seemed to him, as he picked his way over the
broken flag-stones, that the advancing dusk was saturated with the
taint of despair.  "If it is any comfort to you, my child," he said
when he had caught up with her, "you have every reason to feel that
he will come back in the end."

A sigh escaped her, and was lost in the melancholy rustle of the
wind in the grass.  "Doesn't everything come back," she said, "if
you wait until you have stopped wanting it?"

Perhaps.  He didn't know.  He wasn't sure.  Even in the practice of
law, he had avoided, as far as possible, the problem of fugitive
husbands.  "Well, you must try not to lose courage," he answered
cheerfully.  "After all, the important thing," he added, with a
vague idea that his words were an echo, "is to bring a happy child
into the world."

At this imperative summons to duty, her drooping shoulders became
straight again.  "That is all I have left," she replied in the
familiar accents of noble determination.  "Even though I have lost
love, I may still become a power for good in the life of my child."

Touched in his most sensitive, if not his most rational, part, Mr.
Littlepage drew her hand through his arm and patted it softly.
Nothing, he meditated with a quizzical smile, could temper the
moral principle of Mary Victoria.  "The best thing we can do," he
said gently, "is to go home and let Louisa look after you."

"Yes, Aunt Louisa will know what I need," Mary Victoria assented.
"One of the last things mother said to me was that if anything
happened to her before my baby came, I must let Aunt Louisa stand
in her place.  As if anyone could!" she added, with a sob.  "As if
anyone could!"

Mr. Littlepage was still patting her hand.  "You will find," he
said gently, "that Louisa is a rock to lean on in trouble."

Then he let her hand slip from his arm; and turning back for an
instant, his troubled gaze crossed the river and lingered on the
last faint gleam of red, which, even while he looked, was smothered
by the darkening drift of the twilight.


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